BST Staff Returns from Guatemala Mission Trip

group photo by lake 2013

ORTONVILLE, MN-   A team of four therapists from Big Stone Therapies (BST) recently completed a week-long mission trip to the San Lucas Mission in Guatemala.  The team was the thirteenth group from BST to provide therapy services to the people of the San Lucas area.

BST’s team thirteen was led by Paul Treinen, PT, COO of Big Stone Therapies in Ortonville, MN.   Joining him were Trisha Rieffenberger, PT/Watertown, SD clinic manager; Regina Landrus, PT, DPT/Hendricks, MN clinic manager; and Justin Peters, PT, DPT, from BST Ortonville, MN.  The team provided physical therapy services to more than 50 children and adults.  Also attending the mission journey were twenty four University of Mary physical therapy students.  Dawn Mork of Lucero Spanish Language Services also accompanied the therapy team to Guatemala and served as an interpreter. Throughout the week-long mission trip, the team encountered many patients each day and also traveled many miles to service patients in need in the San Lucas area.

Paul Treinen’s experience with one patient especially touched his heart, not by anything the man said, but by his presence and also by his feet. “This seventy-five year old man, heavily bent over with a severe limp and using only a stick or a staff with both hands to help him walk…he had no shoes and his feet were dirty, calloused, and knarled, as you can imagine.  We had seen him several times, but never had time to stop our pickup to help him. Then on our last full day, lo and behold, he was in the church as we were preparing to leave to go see patients in other communities.  We asked if we could help him after the church service.  He was deaf, but the way Regina and Justin, along with Dawn’s translation, treated him and ministered to him… man, it was just like they were touching the feet of Jesus!  I mean that, as it kind of chokes me up just remembering it.  The crutches we fit him with and the sandals… everything fit just perfect. The guy was kind of stunned and it was pretty special.”

Trisha Rieffenberger found it very difficult to put her experience in Guatemala into words! “This was my 4th time to Guatemala and 3rd trip with BST.  My last time there was 5 years ago and I wasn’t a mother yet.  I found that I was more emotional on this trip because I couldn’t help but think about how blessed I am to have two healthy children and access to health care.  My heart poured out to the many parents we saw that made great sacrifices to bring their children to come see us in hopes of improving their lives.  It is difficult to imagine having a child with severe disabilities and NEVER seeing a doctor or therapist.  These parents do the best they can with VERY minimal resources.  Their love for their children glows, yet you can sense the desperation in their deep dark eyes.  I loved to see the ongoing documentation by BST therapists which has led to improvements in the patient’s lives.  We are making a difference down there!”

Regina Landrus commented on how she felt ‘the call’ to go to Guatemala.  She felt the fulfillment and soul enriching that she received far outweighs what she gave to the Guatemalans.  “To be honest the first few days I was in San Lucas I was wondering what I got myself into and was counting the days until home.  I had heard about the wandering dogs and chickens.  I had heard about the poverty.  I had heard about the need.  I saw the need.  I heard the need.  I felt the need.  My angst softened the first days and grew into my ability to let go and let it happen.  My life will forever be changed by my experiences.  We have so much to be thankful for, and all of us live in mansions compared to the majority of Guatemalans.  When I am thirsty, I turn on the faucet and drink.  My shelves are full of food and I know my kids will go to bed with a full belly.  My children have a warm bed of their own to sleep in.  I even have an extra bedroom just for guests.  I have an education.  My kids will get an education. They have nothing, based on our standards.  They do have love.  They have compassion.  They are hard working.   Everyone pitches in and works.  It does not matter how old or young, everyone works.  They have faith.  I honestly believe I looked into the eyes of Jesus in the deaf man with horrible feet, a painful contracted knee, who walked barefoot across town to attend a mass that he could not hear.  I couldn’t speak for a period of time afterward due to my emotions.  That does not happen to me.  They take great care of their families. I have seen older parents carry their older, near adult children on their backs so that they could come get help from us.  They did not complain.  They did not grumble.  They did what they had to do.  Even if our help was minimal, they smiled with gratitude for the increased knowledge, skill and insight we provided them.”

Justin Peters felt the trip to Guatemala was an unforgettable and life changing experience.  “When I first got the call from Paul and he asked me if I wanted to go, I was very excited. As the date got closer, I started to get a little nervous about the trip. I have learned about poverty in the U.S. and so I thought I had an idea. It was a very eye-opening experience for me to witness the conditions that the people of San Lucas live in. I have always appreciated the things I have had in my life, but there are many little things that I have taken for granted each and every day.  After being in Guatemala for one week, I’m so thankful for having clean water to drink out of the faucet when I’m thirsty, food in my fridge when I’m hungry, and a house with a bed when I’m tired at night, with locks on the door to feel safe. The thing that amazed me the most was how happy the kids and families were. When Paul talked about the sparkles in the children’s eyes, that was spot on. I look at how spoiled we are, living in the U.S. and how much depression there is around us, and then see how happy they are with minimal belongings and poor living conditions. As for how everything went on the trip, I thought everything went well especially for it being the first time teaming up with so many students. I felt this was a great opportunity for me to lead a group, but also teach the students things I have learned.  I definitely would like to continue doing some mission work and would go back to San Lucas in a heartbeat. The trip was physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing but it was worth every bit of it in the hopes that we helped some of the people of San Lucas.”

In keeping with BST’s core values of Faith, Family, Fairness and Fun, the goal of the Guatemala mission trips is to provide rehabilitation therapies to men, women, and children of this impoverished area. Rehab might include hands-on manual therapy to increase range of motion; fitting a person in a wheelchair that was donated and brought along; or educating parents on techniques they can use every day to help their child heal, grow and progress. BST’s dedication in sending teams twice a year has been valuable in other ways as well. When the BST team leaves the mission in Guatemala, they know they have truly helped improve lives- both physically and emotionally. Team members take away their own sense of fulfillment in knowing their talents as therapists have made a difference for many people and families. Big Stone Therapies, Inc., owners Wade VanDover, PT, Paul Treinen, PT, and Roman Taffe, began the Big Stone Therapies outreach to San Lucas, Guatemala as an effort to give back to those less fortunate.  The teams that have comprised the mission groups however, will all agree that they are in turn touched by the patients they see and come away with a renewed sense of humility and gratitude.

About BST:

Big Stone Physical Therapy, Inc. was originally established in 1990. With the addition of occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, athletic training and occupational health services, the name was later changed to Big Stone Therapies, Inc. (BST). Today, BST has grown to become a regional leader in rehabilitation services and currently employs more than 230 talented staff across a 20+ clinic network.   BST operates private practice clinics in the communities of: Baxter, MN; Marshall, MN; Morris, MN; and Watertown, SD. In addition, BST provides contract therapy services with community partners in the communities of: Aitkin, MN; Appleton, MN; Benson, MN; Browns Valley, MN; Farmington, MN; Graceville, MN; Hendricks, MN; Ivanhoe, MN; Madison, MN; Marshall, MN; Minneota, MN; Montevideo, MN; Olivia, MN; Ortonville, MN; Thief River Falls, MN; Wheaton, MN; Zumbrota, MN; Milbank, SD; Rosholt, SD; Sisseton, SD; and Hillsboro, ND. For more information please visit us at