Susan Holland
Susan Holland
December 13, 2013

Sandy Holland worked full days of surgery for a week, in challenging conditions lacking the equipment she has available at Manning Regional Healthcare Center. And she did it all for free, even paid her own expenses.

But for Holland, registered nurse and surgical services manager at MRHC, her recent week of volunteer hernia-repair surgeries at the Institute for Latin American Concern Mission near Santiago, Dominican Republic, paid off many other ways. There was the satisfaction of seeing patients return to their lives without pain. But the biggest reward was the outpouring of thankfulness from patients, some who had been living a long time with severe pain and disfigurement.

"They're so grateful. I got blessed by at least one or two patients every day," Holland says. "It was really amazing. They'd say a blessing for you and make a sign of the Catholic cross on you and hug you. They're so thankful."

From Nov. 3-9, Holland served as part of a team with former colleagues at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., where for eight years she was night supervisor, mostly handling trauma cases, before coming to Manning in August.

Creighton has been active in the Institute for Latin American Concern Mission for many years, sending care teams to volunteer abroad.

The volunteer team from Creighton spent the week at Santiago, a city of over a half million and the Dominican Republic's second-largest metropolis, exclusively doing hernia repairs. Holland assisted with 140 operations done on males and females ranging from 1 year old to their 70s. The mission team consisted of 24 nurses and doctors from the Omaha area, as well as volunteers from all over the U.S. and Italy.

Holland says hernias can be not only extremely painful but also life-threatening.

"Their bowels can strangulate, which is really a life-threatening condition if it strangulates and bursts within your cavity," she explains.

But getting surgery in the Caribbean country where there's "no kind of health care" can be difficult, Holland says.

"If you need a surgery," she says, "the surgeon actually gives you a list of materials to go to try to find, like mesh and sutures."

"So this is one way we can help the people," she adds of the volunteer mission.

During the week, surgeries for the most severe cases were done first since some of patients may have to stay overnight. Otherwise, surgeries were done on an outpatient basis. Most surgeries took about an hour, but tougher ones lasted about 1½ hours.

The mission has built a surgical center, but the anesthesia equipment is old, and there's only one oxygen tank.

"That's another reason we do most of the surgeries under local anesthesia - so (patients) can be able to walk out," Holland says.

Beds are the old hand-crank style. The surgery rooms previously had cement floors, but tile was installed recently.

The mesh for the mission's hernia repairs was donated by the mesh suppliers and representatives, and the volunteers all paid their own costs. Volunteers paid their own flight and travel costs and paid $250 each to the mission for food and lodging during the week.

Many of the mission's patients developed their hernias from heavy lifting of daily labor.

"Their muscle walls just get weak," Holland says.

Holland says women have to walk up to a couple of kilometers a day to fetch clean water that they carry back home in large metal tubs on their heads.

"They don't have clean water (at home) to drink," she says.

Meanwhile, in their work, men carry heavy baskets of bananas that they load onto trucks.

"I couldn't believe how high some of those things were you saw driving through town," Holland says.

Following surgery, patients are not supposed to lift anything more than 10 pounds for four weeks.

"The first month, they really have to take it easy," Holland says. "After that, they can resume normal working and lifting."

The mission sends medical teams to the Dominican Republic twice a year - April and November. During the April visit, surgery candidates are screened for surgery in November and vice versa. Some patients have waited a year or more for surgery, Holland says.

Holland says other volunteer missions visit the Dominican Republic to perform such procedures as orthopedics, dermatology and plastic surgery.

"There are teams going down quite a bit to help the people," she says.

Holland is a native of Logan and graduated from Council Bluffs Lewis Central High School in 1982. She received her licensed practical nursing degree from Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and her registered nursing degree from Des Moines Area Community College in Carroll in 2006.

She and her husband, John, who farms near Audubon, have six children ages 21-30 and four grandchildren ages 3-8.

Holland says mission trips such as this are an eye-opener to living conditions in other parts of the world.

"Things we take for granted, electricity and running water, a lot of these people just don't have that," she says of life in the Dominican Republic.

While this was her first-ever mission experience, Holland says, it definitely won't be her last. She plans to return to Santiago next November.

"I encourage anybody who has a chance to take a mission trip to help people," she says.