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Trip 15 – March 2019

I am starting my 15th trip to Ecuador to work with Dr. Jane Weaver at her clinic in San Lorenzo.  I didn’t think I would be achieving this milestone as I had felt my last trip two years ago was my last and final trip.  The reasons for this involved my age and, as life has demonstrated clearly, my age only goes to higher numbers.  Time marches on and we have no control over that.  I will be 75 this coming April and I was at a point on my last trip that I felt my age was becoming a barrier to travel as well as being able to retain my surgical skills.  

Now, two years later, I am again going to work with Jane as I feel God is leading me there once again.  To Him, age doesn’t matter.  In fact, some of the greatest accomplishments that we read about in Scripture were done by people older than me.  Last time in 2017 I was concerned about my surgical skills and I told Jane before we even started to watch me closely and stop me if there is any question of my surgical technique or judgement.  I remember the first surgery for that week how I was fearful and wondering if I really had what it takes to do this.  Then, about 10 seconds later, the training and experience I had stored in my brain somewhere came flooding back and it felt like I was back in my element.  My worries melted away and I felt God’s hands wrapped around my hands and we did the difficult surgeries together.  

That’s the greatest thrill for me, having God’s hands holding my hands.  Before each surgery I pray for Him to wrap His hands around mine, to let me wear Him like a glove, and guide me through the surgery.  I depend on Him continually and He has never failed me.  Especially in the operating room in San Lorenzo His presence is more than palpable to me.  Jane has great equipment to work with.  However, there are no support services such as blood bank, quick lab and x-ray results, or the immediate response of specialists to consult during the operation.  Jane and I operate together as a smooth running team.  She is left-handed, I am right-handed, so each of us are operating on the appropriate side of the table.  She knows my technique and I know hers and we work flawlessly together without hardly needing to tell each other what the next step is.  But, we also know that there is a third pair of hands at the table, hands that encompass ours, hands that guide ours, hands that bring peace, comfort and even healing – the hands of our loving Lord and Savior.

Another big reason for my assumption that the last trip was my final one is the life change that has happened to my dear wife, Phyllis.  In 2017 she was seeing her rheumatologist for management of her erosive arthritis of her hands and she mentioned about changes in sensation in her right arm and weakness and decreased ability to grip or control her right hand.  This precipitated a referral to a neurologist who evaluated her thoroughly throughout the summer.  He ultimately gave her the diagnosis of corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, a degenerative neurological disease that involves the same nerve cells that are affected in Parkinson’s Disease.  The CBGD is different than Parkinson’s and has a progressive downhill course where function of all limbs will eventually be lost.  It also involves the nerves to the tongue and for swallowing.  This disease has no treatment and the usual life span from the first symptom to death is 7 to 10 years.

I’ll never forget what Phylis said to the neurologist when he told us his findings: “We are entering a new normal, and we will walk forward into this with Jesus at our side, and I want God to get all the glory.”  And she has maintained this incredible attitude and strength throughout.  I have yet to hear her complain.  She truly is honoring God each day as she deals with the loss of function and ability from this disease.

In January of 2018 we saw a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville since we were in Florida for the winter.  This neurologist confirmed the diagnosis and felt from her history that she was entering into the 6th year of this disease.  Over the past year she has had a slow progression of involvement of other muscle groups and is having increasing difficulty with her speech.  Enunciation of words is difficult.  She says she knows what she wants to say but her tongue doesn’t move for her.  So far she has not had any trouble swallowing but we know that will eventually come.  She now is in year 7.  Progression of the disease continues but slower than usual.   For us, we work on making every day count and to live each day giving honor and glory to God.

I have become her primary caregiver and this meant giving up all the activities and responsibilities I was involved in so I could be with Phyllis all the time.  She is having more difficulty walking without the aid of a walking stick and the last thing we want is for her to fall and suffer a fracture and serious injuries.  Because of my need to be at home, I felt the door of opportunity to go again to Ecuador was closed.

We spend the winter in Florida and Phyllis’ sister, Connie, lives nearby.  She wants to help care for Phyllis and told me if I wanted to go to Ecuador she would move out to our house and live with Phyllis while I was gone.  This gave me the coverage I need so I could be away from home.  Thus, wheels started to turn once again and now I am ready to travel to Ecuador to work with Jane.  I am so thankful that Connie can come and care for Phyllis.  I deeply appreciate her willingness to go above and beyond to help us both.

So, come along with me on this trip as I go to work with Dr. Weaver assisting her on several surgeries she has planned.  I will fly to Ecuador on March 6 and then travel to San Lorenzo.  This trip is through the Andes Mountains descending from Quito at 9200 feet altitude to sea level in San Lorenzo.  Jane and I will spend a couple days evaluating patients she is bringing in to be considered for surgery.  We will then spend the next week doing several surgeries.  I will then return to the States on March 18.  I ask one favor – pray for us as we seek God’s wisdom and His help in doing these surgeries.  Also, pray for the people we will see and care for.  Those prayers are very powerful and make a huge difference in our work as we together serve our great God.

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