BST Staff Returns from Guatemala Mission Trip

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


BST’s team twelve was led by Kelly Wittnebel, a certified athletic trainer (ATC), physical therapist assistant (PTA) and Occupational Health Manager for BST’s OccuPRO division in Big Stone City, SD. Joining her were physical therapist Andrea Guggenbuehl from Big Stone Therapies in Farmington, MN and Ashley Holm, PTA from Big Stone Therapies in Marshall, MN. The team provided physical therapy services to more than 40 children and adults. Lac Qui Parle Valley High School Spanish teacher Dawn Mork accompanied the therapy team to Guatemala and served as an interpreter.


During the week-long mission trip, the therapists encountered many patients each day.

In addition to treating the physical needs of the Guatemalan people, the team opened a “shoe shop” in their hotel room for families who were in need of shoes. More than two hundred pairs of shoes and socks, collected by the Lac Qui Parle Valley High School Spanish Club, were distributed. The team also delivered shoes to some of their patients. They were greeted by many families with smiles, hugs and signs of deep appreciation which formed a blessed and memorable experience for all.


Guggenbuehl enjoyed playing with the kids and doing “High Fives” or “Dame Cincos” along with fist pumps. “We asked Dawn to translate to the kids who wanted shoes so we could trace their feet on a piece of paper to get the right size and we would then bring the shoes back to them later in the week,” Andrea recalled. “A couple of seconds later, all the kids ran out of the room and none of us knew why.” The mother of a child laughed and said, “Oh no, no, they went to wash their feet!” The children and families were very appreciative of the new shoes they received.


“We had some good experiences treating patients,” said Wittnebel. “We were able to fit a patient with a new wheelchair and followed up with some patients that (team ten therapists) casted for orthotics on our last trip. What a great thing to have them remember you. I could see how much they improved. It really helped me realize that what we do makes a difference.” Wittnebel was also a member of BST’s tenth mission group.


BST’s dedication in sending teams twice a year has been valuable in other ways as well. Based on the eleventh team’s suggestion, a portable, hand-built tilt table for treating patients was transported to San Lucas. Mork stated, “The tilt table was delivered to the school and the nurse there thought it looked great and two students were able to try it. It could well make a difference in the advancement of those being treated. This experience is such a blessing to be a part of and I see the difference BST makes here.”


Holm remarked, “I have to comment on one little boy in particular, he was ran over by a motorcycle twenty days ago and the physician’s assistant saw him and took him to the hospital. He had a tibia and fibula fracture to his right leg. We saw him at his home and he was sitting in a wheel chair with his wound exposed for infection. The doctor did not set the fracture because he wanted his wound to heal first…wow, what an eye opener…     it was so sad to see a 9-year-old boy sit there with no medical care.”


Also reflecting on her experience, Wittnebel said she realized a new sense of appreciation. “We all feel that we are truly blessed and have learned a lot about ourselves and each other on this trip as well as getting the opportunity to use our skills to help others.”


When the BST teams leave the mission in Guatemala, they know they have truly helped improve lives—both physically and emotionally. The therapists also take away their own sense of fulfillment in knowing their talents have made a difference for many people and families. The entire Guatemalan experience causes them to reflect upon their own lives.


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.