Another of the Spring Break traditions for Abilene Christian University students – especially those studying toward a career in the health professions – is a medical missions experience in Central America, conducted by Health Talents International (HTI).
This past week, 20 students were accompanied by ACU’s Terri Aldriedge, R.N., to observe and volunteer in Clinica Ezell near Aldea Montellano in coastal/western Guatemala. Many of the students take part in the university’s innovative Body & Soul program that prepares students for entry into health-related professional schools through co-curricular programs such as shadowing, professional school visits, health organizations and Christian mentorship. ACU also helps students with test preparation and mock interviews.
Abilene Christian students who participated include Austin Anderson, Brianna Burton, Amara Childers, Alex Clendening, Corbin Clifton, Kristin Goodwin, Sally Hays, Jake Hutto, Clint Jones, Travis King, Heather Kregel, Zak Kroeger, Sarah Pinson, Carly Rochelle, Luke Sorrell, Marissa Stewart, Bailey Terhune, Drew Thomas, Ryan Threadgill and Kathryn Wood. Aldriedge said Kregel and Hutto were student leaders of the group.
HTI’s full-time ministry team treated 80-100 medical patients per day, plus 20-30 others for dental or surgical procedures. ACU students observed and aided the staff.
“They have observed eye surgeries, orthopedic surgery and dental procedures. They have accompanied mobile units out to the villages and helped assist as well. It has been an amazing experience and the students have said this has been more than they ever dreamed it would be,” said Aldriedge, who directs ACU’s Body & Soul program. “The students have been allowed to see so many things right next to the surgeon. They have had opportunities most pre-health students will never experience. We are very blessed.”
ACU students have participated in the Spring Break trips for more than 20 years, according to HTI executive director Rick Harper.
According to its website, HTI developed and operates the first Church of Christ surgical facility in the western hemisphere, and dedicated Clinica Ezell in 2002 as the surgical center for several clinics in the region.
Clinica Ezell includes three surgical suites, a 50-bed ward, clinic exam rooms, pharmacy, lab and X-ray room. Adjacent to the surgical center is a dormitory to house 44 visiting team members, a commercial kitchen and dining area. Ten surgical teams travel to Guatemala each year to perform cataract surgery, hernia repair, hysterectomies, and cleft palate repair on the rural Mayan and Latino population living in the area.
Two surgeons on last week’s trip were ophthalmologist Lee Coleman, M.D., of Greenwood, Miss., and Jason Brashear, M.D., of Johnson City, Tenn. The anesthesiologist was Ken Smithson, M.D., from Nashville, Tenn. ACU students were joined by others from colleges and universities in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Arizona.
Much of the growth of Churches of Christi in Guatemala are the result of pioneering missions work by the late Jerry Hill, a 1952 ACU graduate who died in September 2011 after more than 50 years of service to a country and people he loved.