Bringing Physical Therapy to Guatemala

“The joy is in giving. The joy is in helping lessen someone’s pain. The joy is in making a difference in the life of someone who really needs the help.” – Melissa Rudolph

It often takes a life-changing experience to remind us that the skills we possess mean the world to someone in need.

This summer two of our team members traveled to Guatemala to provide crucial physical therapy treatments to a number of people in remote villages. Joe Hanisko and Melissa Rudolph are physical therapy students at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and have been getting hands-on experience at our Wayland and Cedar Springs clinics over the last 2 years. Through GVSU and a faith-based program called Hearts in Motion (HIM) they were able to share their skills and talents with underprivileged people in the area.

This was the 8th year GVSU made the trip down and each time people eagerly await the group’s arrival. People would often stand in line for hours at makeshift clinics or churches to receive medical information or treatment. But it’s not just the people of Guatemala who are benefitting from the trip.

The group went to different towns and provided service in whatever space they had, often a big concrete room with small chairs or benches.

“Working in Guatemala made me eager to help. I gained a humble confidence,” explains Joe. “Undoubtedly, Guatemala allowed me to be comfortable with who I am and taught me to live life more generously and optimistically as many people aren’t granted the comparably stress-free life I live.”

Similarly, Melissa came away with humbled perspective as well. She explains, “I learned the value of working as a member of a team to get different perspectives on the same issue. I also learned how much I rely on tools that just aren’t available to people of different means, which was a humbling experience.”

“I believe there’s a higher power, someone with a plan that instills special talents and characteristics that allow us to be special. This trip offered me the opportunity to share who I was with others and ultimately make a difference in someone’s life. This is why we’re here, it’s a commitment but definitely worth the time.” – Joe Hanisko

Visits with patients typically lasted between 60 and 90 minutes, and they were seen multiple times by the same group of students. Because the trip only lasts two weeks, education was vital to make sure the patient understood how to continue the healing process once the group had left. Melissa noted that it takes effort and a caring person to guide progress. You can see a difference in the patients and their families, even after just a few visits.

Aside from fixing the major aches and pains, both Joe and Melissa discovered that the little things matter just as much, if not more. “This trip showed me that PT is more than just anatomy or muscles. People of all ages, sizes, and races can benefit from the skilled hands of a therapist in so many different and unique ways,” explains Joe. “Guatemala showed me the importance of focusing on the small details of one’s life because those details can make or break the perceived quality of life people are going through on a daily basis.”

And while it may not have been on the agenda, Melissa found that listening was sometimes the best treatment of all. “Sometimes we found that the only thing a person really needed was someone to listen. And it was incredibly rewarding to be able to provide any relief we could.”

“Always be grateful for what you have, and share whatever you can spare with people in need – whether that’s money, knowledge, a listening ear, or just a hand to hold.” – Melissa Rudolph

At the end of the day, both students found themselves using the same words to describe the trip that had been used by so many before them. The terms life-changing, gratifying, eye-opening, rewarding, and unforgettable topped the list.

We go into this field because we have a passion for helping others. We often see people when they’re at their worst, feeling vulnerable and in pain. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the smiles on their faces as treatment begins to take shape. Helping someone feel good is a powerful thing and that process knows no boundaries. We’re proud of Joe and Melissa for the skills, compassion, and time they spent in Guatemala. Their generosity and desire to give back are contagious and we’re proud to call them members of our team.

75% of Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty level. The treatment they receive from generous volunteers like Joe and Melissa make a huge impact in their lives.

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