As an acute-care physical therapist at West Suburban Medical Center, Carley Kirsch is grateful for her opportunity to help patients overcome injuries. On a recent medical mission trip to Peru, she discovered a whole new level of gratitude at 13,000 feet.
Carley joined a group of medical volunteers who recently traveled to Ayaviri, Peru, to serve in an annual clinic for impoverished families there. The team consisted of physicians in many specialties, nurses, physician assistants, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists and others with much needed skills.
The mission team flew into Cuzco and then journeyed by bus for five hours through the breathtaking mountain terrain to the town of Ayaviri. All were looking for adventure and an opportunity to give back.
What they discovered were people in desperate need, many of whom had walked for hours or waited overnight in temperatures below freezing. When the clinic opened, the team was greeting with broad smiles and a never-ending chorus of “thank you.” Over the course of four days, they served thousands of patients.
Carley encountered many adults who suffered from chronic pain. Farming, carrying water or firewood, and other hard labor took its toll on Ayaviri’s adults. As an experienced therapist, she did her best to treat back and neck pain, frozen shoulders, and even Parkinson’s disease. Carley also taught her patients exercises to ease pain and build strength, as well as proper lifting techniques to avoid injury.
As Carley worked in rural Peru, the rugged beauty of the countryside—and the strength and dignity of the people who lived there—left an indelible impression on her.
“Serving in the clinic was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, but it was worth every minute because each person was so very grateful,” says Carley. “You go on a mission trip thinking about how much you can influence other people’s lives, but you come back knowing that they had a bigger influence on you.”