Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Many donors involved in gift of medical equipment from Spokane to hospital in Guatemala

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the March 22, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Staff at the medical clinic in Novillero, Guatemala, include, from left, Manuel Carac, Delores Lucila Yac, Sister Immaculata Burke of the Sisters of Charity of New York, Dr. Jose Miguel (the clinic’s physician), and Gregorio Casildo Can. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

Last Summer, when Dr. Gerald Olmsted decided to retire from his plastic surgery practice in Sacred Heart Doctors Building in Spokane, he wanted to donate his operating room equipment to a Third World country. Little did he know the large number of people and array of international connections that would eventually be involved to make his dream come true.

When anesthetist Maureen O’Keefe heard about Dr. Olmsted’s retirement, she was quick to convince him that one of the most needy places in the world was a hospital in Sololá, Guatemala. Sololá and Spokane have been Sister Dioceses for 45 years and Maureen had recently participated on a Family-to-Family (FTP) cataract surgery project in Sololá. The Guatemala “hospital” was still in the process of being fashioned out of an abandoned army base that had been active during Guatemala’s civil war in the 1980s.

O’Keefe knew how desperately the emerging hospital was in need of operating room equipment. In one of the cataract operations, a man was moving his eyeball so much during surgery, that he needed to be given anesthesia. Unfortunately, the hospital had no anesthesia machine. So the surgeon had to suspend the in-process operation. Then the patient, doctor, and microscope were transported to a distant hospital. Fortunately, the operation was successful. The doctor returned the next day on his motorcycle, with the patient riding behind him.

Once the decision was made to donate the equipment to the hospital in Sololá, an extensive network of communications began to take shape on both the local and international levels. At the Sacred Heart Doctors Building, the anesthesia machine, operating room table, and a host of other equipment had to be tested, disassembled, and moved out of Dr. Olmsted’s office. O’Keefe and operating room engineer Roy Munyan, of Sacred Heart Medical Center, stepped forward to help. Roy also got other volunteers to help truck the equipment to C.W.. Products Co., a Spokane Valley firm capable of crating it for international shipment.

Ron Johnson, of C.W. Products Co., affirmed that his company could crate the items for ocean shipment, but explained that all oceangoing crates had to be constructed from a special type of wood. In addition, there were a number of customs requirements to be dealt with. His office manager, Shelly, would begin getting information together for a quote of the cost of ocean shipment to Guatemala.

Johnson also mentioned that the equipment might have to be stored at another warehouse if the Guatemala contacts did not authorize shipment by the time the crating was completed. Mat Ewers, of IEDS, agreed to store the crates if necessary. Meanwhile, Jessica Richmond of Expeditors International, in Seattle, began collecting information to develop another cost estimate for ocean shipment.

While the equipment was being crated in Spokane, an increasing number of individuals in Guatemala were being drawn into the project. International phone contacts and emails to Dr. Jose Miguel and Sister Immaculata Burke, of the Spokane Mission clinic staff, and to Dr. Carlos Portacarrero, the national Director of Opthamology for Guatemala, must be made. A customs broker in Guatemala would be needed to complete the paperwork required to allow the goods into Guatemala. Claudia Gonzales, of Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, would do that job.

Claudia needed detailed information on the content, weight, size, etc. of each of the five crates that would be shipped before she could proceed. However, Claudia spoke only Spanish. So when questions arose for Claudia, a professional translator would be needed.

Joyce Alonso, an FTP translator in Spokane, was called to duty. As shipment time drew near, Jack Calderon, the Ocean Export Coordinator for DHL Global Forwarding, took control of the shipment.

More individuals became involved as letters for customs officials and certificates of donation were secured from sources in Guatemala and from Bishop William Skylstad, and others, in Spokane.

Financing the shipment brought in a number of different people who donated time or money. In addition to some smaller donations, an anonymous donor offered to pay for the ocean shipment portion of the transportation cost ($4,413). Johnson also said his firm would like to make a donation of more than $ 1,000 of the cost of crating the items.

The equipment was shipped from Miami in early February. On Feb. 14, word came from Dr. Jose Miguel that the equipment was “at central customs, here in Guatemala City.” His email ended with “God bless you.”

Receiving and transporting the equipment to the hospital in Sololá, and then installing it, will involve more people in Guatemala in the coming months. There will be no measurement of the total value of all of the individual contributions. However, the poor who will eventually receive sight and healing from this equipment will know. To them, it will be priceless.

(Jerry Monks volunteers with the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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