Our August trip/Dr. Retson’s 40th Mission

Many people ask what it’s like to go on a medical trip, and across the board our team members find that it is hard to describe them.  There are not words sufficient to explain not only the wonderful feeling of helping people truly in need, but describing the conditions, the stories, and the people we meet. Each trips renews how grateful we are to live the lives we do – to have modern hospitals, schools, and homes, and to have access to doctors of any specialty needed.   Healing, Health, & Hope’s August trip to Jinotega, Nicaragua marked Dr. Nicholas Retson’s 40th trip, so in honor of that, here are 40 short facts about the trip to give you a little flavor of what we were up to that week (click for larger images):

  1. This was our team’s first time in Nicaragua in the month of August.

    Leaving Jinotega, Nicaragua in August

  2. We had the chance to enjoy Nicaragua’s rainy season on our daily walks to and from the hospital.rainyplayground
  3. Our hotel in Nicaragua is only four blocks from the hospital.Hospital
  4. We had three new members of the team to successfully undergo our secret initiation ceremony.Initiation
  5. This trip marked the 5th time at the same hospital in Jinotega.
  6. We’ve made some lasting friendships with the staff there over the years, and it’s always exciting to see them again!grouphoto
  7. We fly into Miami, then take the 3 ½ hour flight to Nicaragua,AirplaneHealingHealthandhope
  8. Then we ride on a bus for about three hours to get to Jinotega.thewheelsonthebus
  9. We screened 29 patients on Saturday evening,prescreenday
  10. Which was after nearly 24 hours of travel for our team to arrive in Jinotega.MiguelDrRavella
  11. Sunday brought us 87 additional patients to screen to find our best surgery candidates.Waitingroom2
  12. We usually are given an outside clinic next to the hospital for surgery, but this time we shared the regular hospital.Dr Retson HHH gown
  13. Our anesthesiologist for this trip, Dr. Raja Ravella, celebrated his birthday that week,
  14. Complete with two birthday cakesBirthdaycake
  15. That we happily shared with the hospital staff who helped us all week.sharing cake
  16. Our youngest patient having surgery was 6 months oldDilan - Nicaragua 2014.08
  17. Our oldest patient was 87 years youngJoseandDave
  18. We performed surgery on 10 patients with cleft palatesAlexanderCleftPalate
  19. And 13 patients with cleft lipsEverCleftLip
  20. There are often stray dogs wandering the halls of the hospital.
  21. We once even saw a skunk!
  22. The skunk cleared the hallways where ever he went.
  23. There were several prisoners (and armed guards) staying at the hospital that week–one of the prisoners escaped and was roaming the hallway naked (sorry, no photo here!).
  24. Many of our patients were from a town so far away that the only way to get there is by walking or helicopterMiskito
  25. All of these patients got to us by walking for daysYaxianddollie
  26. The patients and their families from this region, the Miskito Coast, did not speak English or Spanish!Yansi
  27. Instead they speak a language called MiskitoGabrielaandFather
  28. This made pre and post-operation instructions and questioning difficult, but as always, where there’s a will, there’s a way!YansiCrazyHair
  29. Many of our team members had the chance to practice their charades skills
  30. We got to witness a piñata ceremony at the pediatric ward one day

    One of our patients in Jinotaga participating in a pinata ceremony!

  31. Gela, our little Nicaraguan girl who came to the US for surgery last year, was brought in by her mother againGelaMichelle
  32. Gela received a successful surgery for her cleft palate this tripGelaMom
  33. Gela also brought her sister and niece to meet us!GelasSisterandNiece
  34. We had a little patient named Mileydi, pronounced “m’lady”.Mileydi - Nicaragua 2014.08
  35. Our doctors also did some consultations for Nicaraguan doctors of patients already checked into the hospital to provide them with their medical opinions.Foot Nevus
  36. We started each day at 8 in the morningMorningJinotega
  37. And ended whenever we finished our cases- usually 11 PM or later!fullmoon
  38. All in all, we worked for over 75 hours in the week-long tripNancyNick
  39. And performed 44 procedures on children and adultsEver - Nicaragua 2014.08
  40. We all had a great time, accomplished a lot, and can’t wait to come back to Jinotega in February!KarlaSwing
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Monday’s Golf Outing Details

Hello Healing, Health, & Hope Supporters,

We can’t wait to see you this Monday! As a reminder, here is some information you may need:

Address: White Hawk Country Club
1001 White Hawk Dr.
Crown Point, IN 46307
(see attachment for directions)

Lost? Questions? 773-669-4673

Golfers: Registration begins at 11:45 in the Ballroom (enter through main entrance. Hostess will show you where to go). You are free to eat lunch & practice on the driving range until the shotgun start at 1:00. Lunch will be a turkey or ham sub. If you are a vegetarian and have not already let us know, please email or call by FRIDAY (tomorrow) so we can order an alternative meal.
White Hawk Country Club has a strictly enforced dress code. No denim, cut-offs or t-shirts are allowed on the course or practice facilities at any time.
In case of rain: unless the course is closed due to lightning or violent storms, the outing will still take place. If the Club deems the weather too bad to play, they will give you a pass to come back on your own time to play a round. You are still welcome to join us for lunch at noon and dinner at 6 pm.

Non-Golfers: Please arrive around 6:00 PM to check in, enjoy a happy hour, and browse our silent auction before dinner.  Enter through the main entrance, where a hostess will show you where to go.
Dinner is informal, but please no jeans, cut-offs, or t-shirts.

Silent Auction: If you’d like to pre-bid or just browse the silent auction items, check out http://www.healinghealthandhope.org/silent-auction. This auction is open to the public, so feel free to pass along the link to any friends who may be interested in bidding on items.

Looking forward to seeing/meeting you all,

The Healing, Health, & Hope Team

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Upcoming Golf Outing!


This August, Dr. Retson will be celebrating his 40th mission trip. We average about 52 surgeries per trip – that’s over 2000 lives he has changed – lives of people who would not have help otherwise. To honor this amazing accomplishment, we are debuting our annual golf outing with a banquet to follow.
Come celebrate Dr. Nick and meet the rest of our team! So many of you help us out year after year with donations, and we would all love to put a name with a face. We also would love to meet your friends, family, boss, coworkers, and anyone else who enjoys golf, a good meal, or helping out a great cause!


Click to enlarge

Get details here about signing up!

Along with the obvious need for golfers and dinner guests, we are also seeking sponsors to make this fundraiser an even bigger success. Please share our website and fliers!

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February trip to Jinotega, Nicaragua

Healing, Health, & Hope has returned this week from Jinotega, Nicaragua where they performed fifty-eight procedures in one week. This included nine cleft lip, fifteen cleft palate, and various other congenital and burn deformity surgeries.

Operating Room

One of the OR’s in our little surgi-center

Our team returned for the fourth time to the city of Jinotega, Nicaragua, where we screened nearly 100 patients, scheduled 58 procedures, and subsequently worked over 80 hours of OR time in just 5 days. By the time our team arrives in Nicaragua, many parents have traveled for days with the hopes of surgery for their child. Often a few arrive too late for the initial screening day and surgery scheduling. Having volunteers that accept a week of long days and are still willing to make room in the schedule for these children is part of what makes this team so exceptional. In just five days, we improved the lives of 36 children and 14 adults in 58 different ways!

Our nonprofit organization, led by Dr. Nicholas Retson, travels with volunteer healthcare professionals at least twice a year, serving regions of India, Central America, and South America. The purpose of these trips is to bring surgical expertise to regions prevalent with cleft lips, cleft palates, and burn deformities, to patients who could not otherwise afford these life-changing surgeries.

We said goodbye to our Gela, who was at first hesitant, but quickly remembered her mother’s love. It was a bittersweet moment to hand her back over, but we know it is ultimately what was best.

As always, there is at least one child we wish we could take home with us. This time, it was an 18-month-old named Norvin. His family setting is less than ideal, and his mother (nearly a child herself) was literally asking people in the hospital to take her son home with them. It is obviously heartbreaking to witness this sort of thing. The hospital is working on setting himNorvin, one of our adorable little patients, who sadly will be going to an orphanage

Norvin, one of our adorable little patients, who sadly will be going to an orphanage

up in an orphanage. The redeeming factor here is that we were able to fix his lip (see photo), and hopefully we will be able to improve his life a little bit more (and improve chances of adoption) with a second surgery to fix his cleft palate!

It was a long, hard week, but no one complained about the late nights or lack of sleep. We have formed a really great team that has proved time and time again that we are all in it for exactly the right reasons – we go there to work (though we have a lot of fun doing it, too!).

This August, Dr. Retson will be traveling on his 40th mission. The team will be holding a golf outing to celebrate this milestone and raise funds for upcoming trips. For more information, check back to our website/Facebook page in the upcoming month!

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Gela’s Surgery

The last few months have flown by and her surgery day finally arrived this past weekend. Due to a few complications

walking with our volunteer nurses back to surgery!

walking with our volunteer nurses back to surgery!

with the orthodontics, the date was pushed a month later than we had originally planned. And what better way to roll in 2014 than with a life-changing surgery for our little Gela?  The surgery went well and she was able to return home later in the day. She has been quite the trooper since the very beginning of this adventure. She hardly complains and is always well-behaved; she took being NPO like a champ and so far has not made a fuss about not being able to eat solids. She will be back to visit Dr. Retson on Thursday, when he will change the bandages and see how she is healing. Her previous surgery in Nicaragua began to see complications two days after surgery, ultimately falling apart completely, so please keep her in your thoughts and prayers through this week: we are hoping with better conditions here and a healthy diet the last few months she will heal properly this time!

Our little Gela walked all the way back to surgery without any fuss!

Our little Gela walked all the way back to surgery without any fuss!

Thank you for all of your support, facebook “likes”, comments, gifts, hugs, and warm wishes for Gela. Thank you, of course, to her volunteer foster mom, Becky, as well. I can not even imagine giving a child over to strangers in another country, but I think that being able to tell them how many people have fallen in love with her and how well she’s being taken care of helps reassure her parents a little bit.

And more than anything, thank you to our amazing team of doctors, nurses, and techs who volunteered their Saturday to change this girl’s life. I can’t wait to see you all again in February for our return to Nicaragua!

Gela with one of our fantastic volunteer nurses!

Gela post-op with one of our fantastic volunteer nurses!

As surgery was finishing, one of our volunteer nurses took a snapshot before the bandages went on. The pulling should subside as she heals (the skin will stretch out and her nose/lip will return to normal positions):

Gela's surgery complete!

Gela’s surgery complete!

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Fundraiser & Gela Update

After a long wait, lots of paperwork, and lots of planning, we finally traveled back to Nicaragua to pick up Gela!  She is settled in to her new temporary foster home with a wonderful caretaker – Becky – and is doing very well.  She will have do undergo some orthodontic evaluations before we schedule surgery, but hopefully she will have her cleft lip surgery next month. She will be staying here in Indiana until February, when our team returns to Jinotega, Nicaragua for another mission trip.  I won’t be too upset to have 8 more helpers on the plane with me this time :)

Mom’s goodbye at the airport – And a photo from Miami Airport–


Mom’s goodbye in Managua


At Miami Airport

















Thank you to everyone who gave or loaned me toys, clothes, dvd player, stroller, car seat, and advice!

American Airlines has a “Miles for Kids” program which covered our tickets to get her, and for her return ticket in February.  This is a wonderful program that allows you to donate your miles for kids in need – like our little Gela. If you have excess miles, please consider donating them.

And last but not least, we are having a fundraiser for the month of October/November: Poinsettias! There are two delivery dates: one in Chicago on November 22, and one in Merrillville on December 6th.  Stay tuned to our Facebook/Twitter for more photos of the plants as they mature for the holiday season.  For more info, click here, or on the “Fundraisers” link in the menu bar above.

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Introducing Gela to the United States!

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It is with great pleasure we introduce Gela (“Hey-lah”). She lives near Jinotega, Nicaragua, and we had the honor of meeting her in 2012. Because her cleft lip and palate is such an extreme case, we are bringing her back … Continue reading

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Our Next Mission: Bolivia

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We are very excited to announce our next trip, returning to Bolivia in August! If you have blankets in good condition which you no longer need (less bulky is better–packing space is limited), these are in high demand there as … Continue reading

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Jinotega, Nicaragua

This last week our team traveled to the city of Jinotega, Nicaragua, working in their Hospital Victoria Mota.

This trip had our second-highest number of cleft cases with 14 cleft lips and 11 cleft palate surgeries. In one week, we operated on a total of 56 patients, forty-three of which were children. The patients’ stories, as always, were tales of long journeys to the hospital and hours of waiting in line to see us on the first clinic day. One woman brought her 12-month-old grandson, who had a bilateral cleft lip (cleft on both sides).  She told us that his mother could not stand to have another doctor turn them away – she had already been to four – so the grandmother traveled thirty hours to us with her last hope. Fortunately we could provide a happy ending (or new beginning, really) by providing him with the surgery his family had been searching for.

Still a little swollen a few days after surgery, but he will look normal once it subsides! We hope to see him again next year to fix his cleft palate. Stay tuned for photos.


Another patient’s mother brought him from the neighboring country of Honduras. Since there is no hospital near her village, she stayed in the hospital with her child the entire week to make sure there were no problems after surgery.

Our little patient from Honduras – a week after surgery (stitches are starting to dissolve and he’s looking great!)

Yet another patient called the hospital the week before, concerned because she wanted her child to have his cleft lip fixed, but he had been sick and she was worried we would not permit surgery because of his illness.  The hospital admitted him the week before to monitor him in the pediatric ward, so by the time we arrived he would be healthy enough for surgery. She spent a week sleeping on the floor next to her baby’s bed, waiting for us to arrive, and another week sleeping in the hospital in our ward after his surgery. Our rooms were packed with babies – one day we had 10 surgeries on children all under 12 months old. Imagine sleeping in room with all of them post-surgery!

Another one of our many cleft lip patients, a few days after surgery.

We were also happy to see quite a few of our past patients; many returning to have their palates fixed a year after we operated on their cleft lips. It is gratifying to see these kids smile, knowing how dramatically different those grins were a year ago.

One of our cleft lip babies from last year, returning to have her palate fixed this year!

Other than the clefts, we had two patients with congenital hairy nevi, some patients with bad scarring that needed surgery for full range of motion, one girl with a foot deformity that left her with 8 toes on one foot, and some lipoma and cyst excisions.

It is truly amazing what these parents will do to give their children a normal life. Traveling for days, sleeping on cardboard on the floor, and sacrificing food because they can’t afford to feed both their child and themselves while at a hospital so far from home. Here in the U.S. we have access to doctors who can fix our childrens’ problems without issue. In areas like this, they have to wait – sometimes many years – for medical teams with the specialization necessary to help their child. We hear similar stories each trip, but they never cease to remind us how lucky we are for all we have access to at home.  And, of course, motivate us to come back each year to see who else we can help.

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Healing, Health, & Hope News: ISMA Scholarship Winners

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We are very excited and proud to announce that Healing, Health, & Hope is the winner of the 2012 Indiana State Medical Association’s Medical Missions Scholarship!  The award will go towards our trip in February, when our team will travel … Continue reading

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