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I am Neal Gorman, a Mann Team administrator responsible for various tasks of organization and recordkeeping, and the team photographer once we’re on the ground in Guatemala. Our mission coordinator David Mann, my co-administrator Kathy Vrabec, and I are leading our 9th trip to the Hospital Hilario Galindo in Retalhuleu.

Our team has 34 volunteers in total. Here’s who we are:

• We are 4 General Surgeons, 1 Orthopedic Surgeon, 1 Oral Surgeon, 5 Anesthesiologists, 7 OR Nurses, 2 Scrub Techs, 3 PACU Nurses, 1 General Practitioner, 1 Pharmacist, 2 Physical Therapists, 2 Wheelchair Assemblers, 3 Interpreters, 1 Pastor, and me.

• 13 of us are men, 21 are women.

• 26 are Mann Team veterans, two are new to the team but are not strangers to Faith in Practice, and the remaining six are traveling with the organization for the first time.

• The majority have or have had an affiliation with either the Texas Children’s Hospital or the Shriners Hospital in Houston; the rest have driven by one of those facilities at least once.

• The team includes three couples, two pairs of siblings, and one set of college roommates.

• We hail from Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Mexico, and California.

• Nine team members are fluent in Spanish; seven more are capable of an informal chat.

• And finally, we are proud to be a diverse group of individuals representing multiple faiths and ethnicities.

Our last trip in February 2020 happened as the world was turning upside down. There were conversations about a virus with potential precarious implications, but the coverage seemed to describe a threat that was both distant, remote, and under control Reality took hold when the airline refused to allow one of our team members of Chinese descent to take her seat on the return flight (a nightmare resolved overnight) and all of us returned to a very different world from the one we left behind. Soon, the remaining Faith in Practice 2020 trips along with many in 2021 became casualties of the pandemic.

We were green lit for a trip in February of 2022, with reductions in planned numbers of surgery cases and wheelchair recipients, and without a dental service, due to COVID protocols and restrictions. While we were disappointed with the relaxed expectations, we appreciated the reasons for the change and planned for a trip that would have been diminished in size and scope but not in commitment. And yet once again we were sidelined at the last possible minute by the pandemic, this time a surge in Omicron cases that made travel hazardous for our patients and ourselves. We were disappointed, yet ultimately rewarded by a rescheduled November date that would allow for our customary numbers of surgical patients and wheelchair recipients. While this forced a last-minute scramble to source additional meds and supplies, the promise of what we could achieve more than compensated for the effort.

The final few days before the start of the trip had its share of challenges. Two team members had family emergencies, a hurricane threatened one team member’s flight, one surgeon fell ill at the start of the week (but recovered by the end), construction complicated our meeting ritual at the airport, and we discovered an error in our accounting for a mandatory med. Challenge accepted. Issues resolved.

This morning we met as a group at 6am, checked trunks of supplies and meds without incident and sailed through customs in Guatemala City. Our long bus ride to Reu began smoothly, but our luck ran out at the 47 second mark when the roof of the bus had an intimate encounter with a low hanging something. After ten or so minutes of attempting to dislodge the bus from its captor, a glass section of the roof was shattered. A couple of hours and a new bus later, we attempted the five-hour journey once again, this time with the bus intact.

The delay thwarted our late afternoon plans at the hospital, so some preparation activities will happen tomorrow instead. A small snag. What is important is that we have arrived safely, our trunks with supplies and meds passed through customs quickly, and we arrived in time to celebrate the Astros win. A home run.

Tomorrow, bright and early, the adventure begins.

-Neal Gorman

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