Married Nursing Alumni Extend Their Gifts to Guatemala

Millions of people travel to Central America each year to visit the area’s opulent temples, soaring cathedrals and serene sandy beaches. The escape from every day, working life is a pass to exert as little mental energy as possible for a limited period of time, and labor, even in the slightest form, is typically not on the travel itinerary. For married couple and Clarkson College BSN alumni Nicolas and Angela Delaney, the experience down south was quite different in all respects.

In June 2014, Nic and Angie spent six days in Guatemala using their skills as registered nurses to aid many of the ailing townspeople of Chimaltenango, a city of some 120,000 people known for its specialization in textiles and pottery. They were two of the 10 health care professionals who attended as part of a group mission trip offered through their church in Houston, Texas.

A view overlooking the city of Antigua.

Their team consisted of two medical doctors, one physician’s assistant, four registered nurses, two medical technicians and one seminary graduate. “It was so cool to be a part of this team of people,” says Angie. “We all had different gifts and abilities, and each person played a significant role as we served the people of Guatemala.” During their six-day visit, the team offered free clinical examinations at three different locations in Chimaltenango and examined an estimated 420 people.

Local missionaries opened up their residence, called a “restoration home,” to the Delaneys and their church group. Angie describes the home as a “peaceful retreat center perched on a plush hill overlooking the city, where travelers, church teams and friends and families could gather and get rejuvenated.”

In preparation for the mission trip, the team of providers ordered medication and supplies, such as gauze, tape and blood pressure cuffs, from a company in the U.S. They used their stock to form "La Farmacia" at each clinical site, where they could prescribe antibiotics for common ailments like skin and upper respiratory infections, as well as treat gastrointestinal issues or pain from chronic arthritis.

Patients checked into the clinical sites by signing a piece of paper with their name and listing their chief complaint. As they waited their turn to be examined and diagnosed by the doctors and PA, the nurses obtained vital signs and offered their prayers. Patients who received an Rx could "fill" their prescriptions free of charge at “La Farmacia,” where Angie was stationed the majority of the time.

Filling prescriptions involved counting out pills, placing them into Ziploc® bags and writing instructions for administration in Spanish on the outside of the bag. “Even though they were so gracious and patient with us,” says Angie of the patients, “we were trying to be as efficient as possible so they didn't have to wait all day.” A local man and assistant to the missionaries named Julio stepped in to help the short-staffed team. “You would have thought he was a pharmacist!” jokes Angie. “He dived right in to help us fill prescriptions and made sure everyone understood how to take the medication and what it was for—such a fun memory!”

Angie speaks minimal Spanish, and Nic knows the language well enough to conduct a basic head-to-toe assessment. A few of their church group members spoke fluent Spanish, and the local missionaries also recruited several translators to assist at the clinical sites. “We sure wished we would have been able to speak more and have a real conversation with the beautiful people we met,” says Angie.

Toward the end of the trip, the mission group grew wary of running out of medication, particularly Tylenol, Ibuprofen and vitamins. “The amount we distributed seemed far more than what we had brought with us, but we somehow ended up having enough,” says Angie. “It was neat to see how God fulfilled the need,” she adds humbly.

One limitation the group did have was the level of care they could provide. “We didn’t have any diagnostic equipment like a CT, X-Ray, lab, etc., so the providers had to rely solely on their physical assessment skills even though there were a few patients they saw who clearly needed more medical care than we could offer,” says Angie. The team referred such patients to a local physician at a nearby hospital.

Angie, far left, and members of her missionary team blessing a family in prayer.

As fulfilled as they felt at the end of each day, the Delaneys also witnessed some very difficult scenarios where a heartfelt prayer was the only form of prescription they could offer. Angie recalls a case involving a boy in a wheelchair, about 12 years of age, who they believed to have a severe form of cerebral palsy. “While it appeared he was loved and cared for by his mother and family members, it was evident they were overwhelmed by the amount of care he needed.” The boy’s pants looked as though he soiled himself, which Angie attributes not to intentional neglect but to a lack of resources and challenging circumstances, including the difficulty in lifting or transferring him when needed. “Oh, how I longed to see this little boy leap out of his wheelchair!” she expresses. “My heart so broke for him and his family, and I wish we could have done more.”

The Delaneys were also humbled by the kindness and perseverance of their patients. There were times the mission group handed out bags of 15–20 Ibuprofen pills and felt badly that was all they could do, especially knowing some of the patients could benefit from so much more. “But the patients responded as though they were just given a thousand bucks.” Angie says in amazement. “Their hearts of gratitude were absolutely incredible, and they had such faith, love and joy even in the midst of poverty and sickness. I want to be more like them!”

Nic echoes Angie’s admiration for the Guatemalans’ unwavering gratitude. “So many times in the U.S. people take their care for granted and can even be downright rude to those caring for them,” he shares lamentably. “In the 420+ patients we saw, not a single person was ungrateful, and this touched many of our hearts.”

The missionary team on their last day of clinic at the private school started by Pat and Charlie. Pat is on the far right; Angie is fourth from the right.

As the designated leaders of the mission trip, the Delaneys also learned how caring for their own team members translated into better care for the townspeople. “This being our first time [leading a trip], it was a blessing to see the team excel and for the missionaries to be blown away by how many people we were able to provide care for,” Nic shares. “This taught me a great lesson in terms of the impact of leadership.”

One of the Delaneys’ greatest gains from the trip was the relationship they developed with Pat and Charlie, a retired, married couple originally from the U.S. “They were truly inspiring people,” says Nic. “They both had amazing stories and a genuine love for the people.”

Pat is the missionary of the restoration home where the church group stayed. She was inflicted with polio as a young girl, which has left her dependent on crutches and leg braces. Despite her physical impairments, she travels along cobblestone roads daily to visit her friends and neighbors.

“While Pat and Charlie could be living near their family and enjoying a quiet life in the U.S. they have chosen to spend their retirement years serving the beautiful people of Guatemala,” says Angie admirably. The couple operates a school in the town and has worked to provide educational and spiritual care for its inhabitants. The lack of medical care prompted them to invite the team of medical professionals to come provide a week of physical examinations.

Guatemala was not Nic or Angie’s first mission trip experience. Individually, they developed a passion for church-based, service trips early on in their lives, which led them each to pursue a career in nursing. Both in their former lives and now, they firmly believe that God seeks to express love and grace to the world through tangible acts of service, like providing health care to people who may not otherwise be able to afford or have access to resources. This belief is what compelled them to go to Guatemala. “We had never been on a mission trip together,” says Angie. “Every year, our church sends out several teams of people to different places for different missions, so when we heard about the Guatemala trip and that it had a medical focus we were immediately interested!”

The Delaneys highly recommend that anyone given the opportunity should experience a mission trip at some point in their lives, especially those involved in health care who, Nic and Angie feel, have such a skill to offer to others. “I can almost guarantee it will change you and challenge you,” says Angie passionately. “We feel so very grateful and blessed by our personal experience in Guatemala. It is so amazing how you go on a trip like this with the intention of giving and serving people, but then you come away feeling more impacted and blessed by them then they are by you.”

The Delaneys moved to Houston nearly four years ago when Angie received a job on a neurosurgery unit. Shortly after returning from Guatemala in summer 2014, she changed specialties and now works in labor and delivery. “I am loving it,” she says enthusiastically. “Not many people can say they go to work where every day is a birthday party!”

Nic works in the emergency department at the Texas Medical Center. “We see anything and everything due to it being the largest medical center in the world, and we treat patients from every corner of the earth,” he shares.

Nic and Angie added parenthood to their life résumés last May and say they are loving it more than they could have dreamed. With all of the genuine love in her heart, Angie says she and Nic hope to take little Sophia with them on their next medical mission trip, wherever that fortunate place may be.