Kaalan Johnson: Electrical Engineering major
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Each year, when otolaryngologist Kaalan Johnson ’00 joins a surgical team of eight at the 40-bed Christian mission hospital of Loma de Luz, they meet any ear, nose, or throat problem that walks through the door. Hondurans with tonsil problems, cleft lips or palates, facial fractures, or thyroid cancer know that for nine days, they have access to American surgeons gifted in correcting those maladies. Large doses of hope are dispensed along with the healing.
And now, says Johnson, plans are being made for a second team from Seattle to alternate with the first team from Virginia to even better meet the needs of the hospital. Even though his life is already full teaching at the University of Washington and performing surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Honduras remains a priority.
“The patients will show up at 7 a.m. for an appointment at 4 p.m.,” he says. As the day wears on, the patients smile frequently at the medical personnel and express gratitude when their turn to be treated finally comes. “They have incredible attitudes and the believers among them are refreshingly transparent in their love of God.” One woman, emerging from anesthesia after a tympanoplasty to repair a hole in her eardrum, broke into 45 minutes of praising God. “Gloria a Dios!” continues to ring in Johnson’s memory.
Loma de Luz means “Hill of Light” and provides a consistent Christian witness in the area.
The challenges are plentiful. Last year’s trip to Honduras had to be delayed six months because of the country’s narcotics trafficking and a dramatic rise in the murder rate that prompted the Peace Corps to pull out their volunteers.
Every trip to the mission hospital presents Johnson with a sometimes jarring transition from the rigorous academic world of research and cutting edge concepts to the basics of explaining a medical procedure to an indigenous Honduran working class family. “More than knowledge, it requires flexibility and empathy,” says Johnson, who credits Seattle Pacific with providing all three.