A Promise Kept
“Joy springs from a grateful heart,” says Pope Francis, and a grateful heart can find expression in a life of serving others. Elena’s journey—which began with a devastating injury and led her to nursing school—shows the powerful ripple effect of gratitude.
The Solidarity Bridge team first met 22-year-old Elena when she and her family came to the hospital in Punata on the final day of our 2016 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip. That day, Elena shared her painful story. Eight years before, when she was just 14, she had been struck and injured by a vehicle while doing errands with her mother. Much of Elena’s abdomen had been crushed and she was left with a colostomy.
Speaking with the team, Elena was desperate to know if her intestinal tract could be restored. Mission surgeon Dr. Magued Khouzam was uncertain, but because of potential complications, he knew the surgery could not take place just a day before the mission team left town. Quickly, he consulted with colleagues in the United States to develop a treatment plan. Elena and her family, meanwhile, took an overnight bus across the Andes to the city of Santa Cruz, where Elena was added to the schedule for a General Surgery Mission Trip beginning the following week.
Days later, as Elena was wheeled into surgery, she was understandably anxious. To distract her, missioner Jodi Grahl asked her about her life and plans. After high school, Elena said, her treatments and the management of her colostomy made it too difficult to continue her studies. “I haven’t been able to do anything interesting with my life,” she confided.
In the end, the surgery was successful and Elena’s colostomy was removed. Two weeks later, social workers visited her home outside Punata, where Elena and her parents shared a simple lunch and talked frankly about their lives. Elena said she had spent her teenage years hiding the colostomy bag under her clothes, wearing oversized garments that would help her avoid questioning and uncomfortable conversations. She finished high school and had become a leader in her church’s youth group, but to feel less exposed, she had chosen to stay home rather than pursue further education.
With tears in her eyes, Elena’s mother spoke in Quechua about how speedy and miraculous Elena’s recovery had been. She said she was thankful to God for the day she convinced Elena to go with her to the hospital and meet with the Solidarity Bridge surgeons. Before that, Elena had been discouraged and depressed.
The entire family was still in disbelief about Elena’s healing, the minute scars, and her body’s ability to readapt. Free of her colostomy, Elena had begun to enjoy the liberating feeling of slipping into any type of shirt she wanted. And she was looking for university programs in medicine to honor a vow she had made to help people who suffer from conditions like her own.
One year after her surgery, Elena began to fulfill that promise. At the closing ceremonies for our 2017 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip, she appeared at the hospital in Punata in a bright blue-and-white uniform. She told the team she is studying nursing, inspired by her experience and by the Solidarity Bridge missioners and partners who treated her.
Such reunions are joyful for doctors, social workers, and missioners who often wonder about past patients and hope they have fared well in recovery. Joy indeed springs from grateful hearts—those thankful to be healed, those who heal, and those joined for life by the bonds of solidarity.