It was four years ago that Matt Miller, a nurse anesthetist at Henry County Health Center, came across a post in an online forum about anesthesia requesting a nurse anesthetist for a weeklong medical mission trip to Honduras. He took a leap of faith and went, working with other medical professionals from across the U.S. and in Honduras to complete 100 life-changing surgeries for people who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
Today, Miller is launching his own medical mission nonprofit, Operation Hope Medical Missions, and is planning their first trip for May 2020.
“Life is tough enough,” Miller said. “Let’s say someone is healthy and life is going well for them. They have so many other challenges. Let’s take away their medical problem.”
Operation Hope is hosting a fundraiser at Pizza Ranch in Mt. Pleasant on Wednesday, July 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. All proceeds will go toward medical expenses incurred on the trip.
A Surgical Hospital
Miller went on his first medical mission trip to Comayagua, Honduras, with Solanus Medical Mission in 2016 and will go on his fourth trip with them in September.
The San Benito Jose Medical Center in Comayagua, where they perform surgeries, is converted into a surgical hospital for about six weeks throughout the year, with teams of 30 medical professionals taking time off work to perform an average of 100 surgeries in a week.
People travel by bus and on foot from Honduras and other Central American countries for the opportunity to see a surgeon.
Erika DuVall, surgery nurse at the Henry County Health Center who also has been on a couple of trips with Solanus, said she treated a girl from El Salvador who took a six-hour bus ride to the hospital for a hernia repair surgery.
DuVall said when the surgery team arrives in Comayagua, they are met with a line of people snaking around the hospital.
Patients are carefully screened. Only those with the most urgent medical and financial needs are scheduled for surgery when a surgical team is in town. Patients are operated on during the day, recover overnight and then are discharged.
“It’s not just the physical healing,” Miller said. “It’s knowing they are not forgotten and that there are teams like us who will go down there and donate our services.”
The team tries to wrap up surgeries by 5 p.m. each day. The area where the hospital is located can be violent and they don’t want missions teams or hospital staff walking home at night.
Even so, once a patient is placed on the surgical schedule that day, their surgery will happen.
“It’s not like we can bump them back a day,” Miller said. Not only could that patient have to return to work, the surgery schedule every day is already full. “You commit to that person you’re going to provide services to,” he said.
Miller said that because of his experience with Solanus, he was asked to coordinate a medical missions team. With Solanus already at capacity with the number of trips they can coordinate, Miller decided to launch his own nonprofit. He named it Operation Hope Medical Mission.
Fundraising for Operation Hope
Operation Hope will be taking their first medical mission trip to Comayagua, Honduras, in May 2020. They are working toward their fundraising goal of $5,000 to $7,000 to cover the expenses of performing surgeries, paying the staff at the hospital in Comayagua and covering the cost of medical equipment.
Each team member is responsible to pay their own way, a cost of around $1,500 to $2,000, which includes plane fare, a weeklong hotel stay and food.
Organizing a medical mission trip is a new experience for Miller, who said there will certainly be some bumps in the road. He’s excited just the same.
“I’ve always had a passion to help people,” Miller said. “We’re blessed with so many things here in the U.S. to give back some of our resources and abilities to take care of people.
“These people have nothing,” Miller continued. “We’re talking about surgery. Most of them don’t have running water. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Their housing situation is deplorable. For us to go down there and be able to physically correct them, that’s amazing.”
Miller said that once Operation Hope has a firm foundation and some finances built up, he could see them taking teams twice a year.
A New Life
Doing surgery in Honduras is different from in the U.S.
Before going on her first medical missions trip, DuVall said she had become “jaded” by the profession and was thinking about getting out of nursing altogether.
Doing surgery in Honduras gave her a new purpose.
“It does truly refill your cup,” DuVall said. “I was given a gift. I can’t play the piano, I can’t dance, but I was given the gift to be able to be a nurse.”
Miller said that anyone in the medical profession should participate in at least one medical missions trip.
In the U.S., there’s a lot of “peripheral noise” in health care, Miller said. Practicing medicine in Honduras is “the purest form of patient care,” he said.
“It’s not charting and all these distractions. You’re addressing the patients, you’re taking care of the patients and you’re not distracted by all the other stuff. We spend more time charting than actually taking care of patients (in the U.S.),” Miller said.
Miller and DuVall both have performed life-changing surgeries for patients, from taking off a boy’s sixth finger so he could more easily pick up things to removing a woman’s seven-pound uterine fibroid that she had lived with for 10 years because she didn’t have access to health care.
Through the trips, Miller and DuVall have also forged lifelong friendships. Miller said that although you may go to Honduras as complete strangers, by the end of the week he has felt like he knew the other medical professionals for 20 years.
“You’re there with a common purpose and a common goal. You’re doing it because you want to. It’s something special to be a part of,” Miller said.
For more information or to donate to Operation Hope Medical Mission, visit their Facebook page at Operation Hope Medical Missions. They can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 614-632-6505. Donations will be accepted at the Henry County Health Center by mailing checks to the Henry County Health Center Attn: Matt Miller, Anesthesia Department at 407 South White Street in Mt. Pleasant, 52641.
Donations will not be used to pay for personal trip expenses.