Sanford Health surgeon does mission work in Guatemala

She provided care to patients in poverty during a weeklong trip

two women smiling in airport
two women smiling in airport

Sanford Health general surgeon BreAnn Neiger, M.D., earlier this year took part in a weeklong medical mission work trip to Central America through Faith in Practice.

Through the organization, medical and dental providers travel to Antigua, Guatemala, which is the base for all the teams whose members volunteer their services for a week. They usually travel from the United States on a Saturday and return the following Saturday. Teams are divided into two groups. One group is comprised of health providers who work at the hospital in Antigua, while another group travels to sites and villages in the countryside to provide family practice medicine and dentistry.

Medical and dental professionals working at the Hermano Pedro Hospital bring all the supplies they expect to use for performing surgery and postoperative care. Then, on Sunday, they see all surgery candidates and prepare a surgical schedule. The remainder of the week is spent in surgery at the hospital.

Extreme poverty

Guatemala has an extreme income inequality among Latin American countries. More than half of Guatemala’s 16 million people live in poverty, defined as less than $2 per day. In addition, Guatemala is home to 23 indigenous Mayan groups, each with its own language. Poverty weighs more heavily on these people, with more than 72 percent of the indigenous population living in poverty.

The majority of Guatemalans have basically no access to health care.

The Guatemalans who live in the farthest rural areas are the group with the greatest need. They also represent the largest group of patients. To reach this group, volunteers travel to the farthest areas of Guatemala to set up village clinics. Patients who require surgery are referred to partnering hospitals.

Mission work teams

Volunteers, including Dr. Neiger, who works at the Sanford Health Broadway Clinic in Alexandria, Minnesota, perform most of their surgeries at the hospital in Antigua. In 2006, Faith in Practice completed the expansion and renovation of the operating rooms. The hospital now has five state-of-the-art operating rooms.

Mission work teams from throughout the United States are comprised of volunteers. These volunteers include the mission coordinator, the leader of each team and the team administrator, who is responsible for team logistics. These volunteers report and interact with the Faith in Practice staff in Houston and Guatemala.

Surgical teams represent many specialties: ear, nose and throat; gynecology; general; orthopedic; plastics; and urology.  Surgeons perform surgeries ranging from simple tumor removals to extensive scoliosis repair and total hip and knee replacements. In 2017, Faith in Practice sent 25 volunteer surgical teams to Guatemala, averaging 40 individuals per team.

Dr. Neiger’s surgical team members were mainly from Georgia and Texas. In addition to physicians and surgeons, the teams also include nurses, interpreters, anesthesia personnel, a cook team as well as Guatemalan people.

This was the second mission trip for Dr. Neiger, and she hopes to return again next year. She finds the work gratifying and the Guatemalan people to be extremely kind and thankful for the care they receive. Dr. Neiger and a good friend from residency volunteer on the same team, which makes the mission an even richer experience. Most of the general surgeon cases include hernias and gallbladders. Other surgeries are included as well if they are needed.

Posted In Alexandria, General Surgery, Sanford Stories