MADISON, NJ - Three hundred people came from hours away, some on foot others by bus, in the rural area of Intibuca, Honduras, part of the Central American Dry Corridor, for medical attention by a surgical brigade of volunteer American doctors and nurses as well as volunteers like Maggie Claudio. Maggie is the Madison Area YMCA’s financial assistance coordinator. She participated in the medical mission with Atlantic Health System as an English/Spanish translator and helped put patients at ease. Maggie has a desire to help people—so holding her position at the Y is a natural fit.

 

“People came and sat on long wooden benches in the hallway for hours waiting to be seen,” says Maggie. Her full-time job in academic affairs at Atlantic Health System brought her on the mission trip. She works full time in academic affairs in the office of Dr. Susan Kaye, Atlantic Health System’s medical director of academic affairs and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Overlook Medical Center. Dr. Kaye and Dr. Rolando Rolandelli, chairman of the department of surgery at Morristown Medical Center, spearhead these mission trips in coordination with UHMLA (Unidad Hospitalaria Movil Latinoamerica), a surgical not-for-profit he founded.

“A woman in a traditional colorful dress and shawl had arrived barefoot after walking many hours with her son. He had a growth on his head that he kept covered with a hat because he was embarrassed. After the doctor lanced it, the woman put her hand on my arm and said, ‘My son is cured.’ She was so grateful. The stories are endless,” says Maggie, in her office at the Madison Area YMCA shortly after returning to the U.S. “The doctors also removed a growth that had grown to the size of a plum on an 8-year-old girl’s torso. Before Maggie left, the girl sent a note saying, “Thank you for everything. I love you.”

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Like Atlantic Health System, the Madison Area YMCA is a hub in the community that promotes health and wellness. “There’s a parallel between what Atlantic Health System does and what our Y does,” says Joe Gonsalves, the Madison Area YMCA’s senior director of healthy living. “We are both helping and strengthening communities. For example, our collaboration with Atlantic Health System brings the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which provides tools for reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, to more people right here in our neighborhood. Many cancer survivors who have been treated through Atlantic Health System Cancer Care also participate in our LIVESTRONG at the YMCA.”

The surgeries, some scheduled before the surgical brigade arrived and some “walk-ins,” ran the gamut from doing simple procedures to repairing hernias, removing gallbladders and performing gynecological procedures, to name a few. Maggie added that the doctors and nurses were challenged by the environment that they worked in. “They were practicing with very different resources available than they are used to,” she says, noting that she sat with patients, listened to their stories and tried to help them relax. “I introduced two men in the waiting area who knew some English so that they could practice while they waited to be seen,” she says with a smile.

Maggie has been on 10 mission trips—this was her third in Honduras. “The level of poverty there is beyond description,” she says. “I had collected coloring sheets and crayons at home and was thrilled to give them out to the children while they waited. Handing just one coloring sheet and one crayon to each child—the look on their faces? Priceless. Sheer joy. Those are the images that stay with me.”

Sitting relaxed in a gray shift dress, Maggie looked up to find words while rolling a purple stone on her necklace between her fingers. “I get through the year and get ready for another mission,” she says.

Reflecting on her work at the Y and her work on mission trips with Atlantic Health System, she acknowledges the joy that both bring. “I feel blessed to be able to help in small ways. There is so much need,” says Maggie, noting that she feels honored to be surrounded by people who are doing great things for others. “I can’t imagine not helping others in any way I can.”