Woman organizes medical trips to Ecuador: Ministry Spotlight

By KRYSTI SHALLENBERGER

Volunteer Stephanie Rubens and Ecuador Dr. Beatriz Engalls, who organizes medical mission trips to her home country. Photo by Krysti Shallenberger.

Dr. Beatriz Engalls moved away from Ecuador but hasn’t moved on from it. She knew she was lucky to earn a medical degree and make a life in Birmingham, and she wanted to help the kids her in home country become the catalyst for a better society.

“I felt there was a need to help people over there,” said the Brook Highland resident.

Once a year for the past 20 years, she and two of her brothers, both physicians, organize a trip to Ecuador. Engalls’ team includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, pharmacists, mechanic and physical therapists. Volunteers come from UAB and around Birmingham as well as the states, some as far away as Oregon and California.

According to Engalls, in Ecuador, the public hospital care is free to the public, but medical supplies are almost nonexistent.

“They tell people that they can get help free, but they have to buy their own supplies,” she said. “So it’s free, but it’s not free.”

Engalls’ mission trip focuses on providing free surgeries to the impoverished population of Ambato, a town two hours from the capital city, Quito. She works with the local rotary club in Ambato to coordinate her visit with the two local public hospitals.

“We do reconstructive ear surgery because some children are born missing part of their ear,” she said. “It usually takes three or four surgeries to correct that, and I am only there for two weeks. I like to go back and see patients that we help get better.”

The team focuses primarily on women and children to better the future of individuals and the country.

“We try to catch their problems early so we can correct them and they won’t have to suffer when they get older,” she said. “Healthy children are necessary to a healthy society.”

The mission team does reconstructive, pediatric orthopedic and eye surgery; they also work with clubbed feet and provide physical therapy.

“Many of the people believe children who are born with a cleft lip are cursed,” said Engalls, “so the parents hide them.”

Now volunteers are gathering at the trip’s supply center at Engell’s home to help prepare for her next trip in February.

“We welcome donations,” she said, “all kinds from money to medical supplies such as sutures, eyeglasses and hearing aids. We need volunteers to help us pack up the supplies for the trip.”

To donate supplies, make a donation or volunteer your time, contact Beatriz Engalls at b.engalls.@uab.edu or call 859-967-8561.

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