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San Angelo Lifestyles

Putting Faith in Practice

written by sabrina forse | photos by charla blackwell
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Peter 4:10

An annual eight-day mission trip to Guatemala is illustrating how volunteers can use their skills to best serve those in need of medical assistance. “It makes you realize why you became a medical professional in the first place. The need blows you away. There are people there that have waited years and years to get surgeries that we would have done in the states in no time at all,” said Sandie Mirelez. Sandie is a Registered Nurse at Shannon Medical Center. She and her husband, Jay Mirelez, a Certified Surgical Tech and Certified Surgical First Assist at Shannon are team leaders for the annual mission trip.

 Dr. John Cargile assisted by Sandie Mirelez, RN and Crystal Ortiz, surgical scrub tech. 

The couple has been volunteering their time with Faith in Practice for the past ten years. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to medical mission trips as a way to improve life for the impoverished in Guatemala. “When people say mission trip, they assume your trip is paid for but that’s not the case. It’s typically at least $2,000 per person so we wanted to find a way to ease some of that burden,” said Jay. In 2017, the couple and their Shannon colleagues,
Dr. William Whitehead and his wife Brandi, a Physician Assistant, Dr. David Boswell and his wife Sarah, an Occupational Therapist, created the non-profit organization Concho Valley Medical Missions. The group accepts donations and hosts fundraisers to help alleviate some of the trip costs. “We can’t pay for the entire trip for someone, but we want to try to offer some financial assistance to those who need it. We are also looking into how we can help more people locally in the future and were fortunate to have met a local need this past year,”
said Jay. 


In April of 2019, Concho Valley Medical Missions sent a group of fifty volunteers to Guatemala where they performed 104 surgical procedures for 87 patients and built 150 wheelchairs. Forty-six of the volunteers are from San Angelo with many from Shannon Medical Center and some from San Angelo Community Medical Center. In addition to medical personnel, there was also a pastor, a photographer, interpreters and a team to assemble wheelchairs. “It’s unique because there are people from different departments of the same hospital that you may not normally work with but when you get there, you pull together,” said Russell McCann, an IT Systems Analyst at Shannon Medical Center who joined the team for a third time this past spring. “There were some first timers that I didn’t know very well when we touched down in Guatemala, but they ended up becoming family, best friends or Facebook friends by the time we left. It’s really cool to see everyone come together.” 

 Patients who have been pre-scheduled wait for service. 

Before the volunteers left for Guatemala, Faith in Practice was working its outreach in various villages to schedule patients that would fit the skill set of the surgeons set to arrive. In addition to personal luggage for fifty people, the team packed eighteen trunks of medical supplies. The flight from Dallas to Guatemala City takes just under three hours but then the team had a six hour drive to their hotel in Retalhuleu. “It’s usually a four-hour drive but due to a volcano they were doing road construction,” explained Jay. 

 Donald Moon, Team Pastor and Nancy Cargile, Pastoral Assistant

Once in Retalhuleu, the team tours the hospital. “The first day is my favorite part of the entire trip. All the patients are there and the pastor prays over them. They are praying in their language and us in ours. It’s a huge mob of prayer and so emotional,” said Russell. “These patients are coming to the hospital on the faith that God will heal them.” The team begins every morning with worship, a devotional and agenda for the day before heading to the hospital.


 Dr. David Boswell and Sarah Boswell lead a morning devotional. 

“Monday there is just like a Monday here in the states. It’s just go-go-go. There are four operating rooms. On Tuesday through Thursday, there are follow-ups with those that had surgeries the previous day,” said Jay. This team provided multiple surgeries including ones for hernias, gallbladders and hysterectomies. “Every patient we’ve worked with is very grateful. It’s really organized now but when we first started patients would be lined up out the door and around the block. It definitely pulls on your heartstrings.”

 Jay Mirelez, Team Leader and a surgical assistant coordinate surgical schedules. 

While surgeries are underway, there is also a wheelchair clinic where patients are given free wheelchairs. Russel has been on the wheelchair assembly team for the past three years. “I’ve always wanted to do a mission trip and I felt like building something was a perfect way to serve.” There are three teams in the wheelchair clinic. A physician meets with a patient to determine need. A physical therapist determines the type of wheelchair the patient needs for a fitting. Then, the assembly team builds the wheelchairs. “There are small, medium, large and extra-large chairs. Each chair can be adjusted seat and height wise. They are customizable to what the patient needs.” The team also gives away walkers and walking canes. “It’s an immediate satisfaction. These people leave with a freedom they didn’t have when they came in. They are very thankful,” said Russell.

Russell McCann puts together a wheelchair. 

There was a woman who came to the clinic with a friend. She didn’t need a wheelchair, but the team was able to assist with a greater need. The woman had an adult son who was the size of a toddler due to cerebral palsy and encephalitis. “This woman had been to thirteen different churches trying to get her son baptized but no one would baptize him because there is a lot of superstition there. Our pastor took him to the chapel, and we got to see him baptized,” said Sandie. It was an emotional moment that left the volunteers in tears. “He didn’t need a wheelchair but I think the Lord put our team there so he could get what he needed and the mother could get what she needed. From the moment they came there to the moment they left, it was a God thing and was so moving,” said Russell. 

 Pastor Don performs a baptism for a young patient. His mother went to thirteen different churches but was turned away due to his condition. 

Special moments like that reinforce the mission for volunteers. Last year, Jay and Sandie were debating on whether to return to Guatemala when an urgent call came in. Jay and the GYN team returned to the hospital. “There was a patient who needed a blood transfusion and when they handed the nurse the blood, she noticed it was warm and not cold like it is here in the states. Then, when she went back for a second unit, she noticed a person with a needle and iv tubing out of their arm, giving blood. We gave whole blood to the patient and did what we needed to do. Another, women told us thank you and said if this had happened in their regular hospital, they would have let her die so to me that was huge,” said Jay. “In that moment, it was God telling me, this is why we are doing this. We’re not doing this because it’s fun. We’re doing this because these people wouldn’t get help without an American team there.” 


For Sandie, it’s the memory of a young boy from her third Faith in Practice mission trip in Antigua, Guatemala. “There was a little boy who had hands that were like paws. We worked for five hours and were able to separate his hands so that he had three fingers. The mother was so thankful because he was called a monster when he was born. We’ve repaired cleft lips and pallets and the mothers are so happy because they don’t want their children to be shunned.”

The volunteers use their personal time off or go without pay to help serve others for this special mission trip each year. “Every year there is a situation that tugs on your heart and you just make the trip happen. You see their problems and their gratitude and it’s very humbling,” said Jay. “With finances and kids, we can make excuses not to go but in reality, you have to believe in the Lord that it’s going to work out.” To learn more about Concho Valley Medical Missions or to donate, Click Here.

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