Bonners Ferry resident, Aimee Stuermer, was searching for something to help feed her soul. So when she heard about an opportunity to go on a mission trip last year, she just couldn’t pass it up.
“I had always been interested in doing a mission trip,” said Aimee, who owns Medicine Man Pharmacy in Bonners Ferry along with her husband Shane. “Last February, a fellow alumnus … posted on Facebook that a group she had done mission trips with in the past had several pharmacists drop out of an upcoming mission trip due to concerns about Zika virus. She put out a call to action to any pharmacists who may be interested. I decided to go on February 8, 2016, and the mission began on March 11, 2016. It was very last minute!”
Led by Faith In Practice, Aimee traveled to Retalhuleu Department in Guatemala. She spent two days in a clinic in Aldea Biloma and two additional days working in a clinic in Pueblo Nuevo, as well as in local schools.
When the opportunity to travel with the same group came about this year, Aimee knew she had to go. “This year, we went to El Progreso Department in Guatemala, spending two clinic days in Sanarate and two clinic days in Morazán,” she said.
As a pharmacist, Aimee’s role was to fill prescriptions for patients who were seen by the clinic doctors as well as those being referred to surgery and other services.
“We had a strict formulary of medications that the prescribers could write for,” said Aimee. “We would, in general, dispense a three-month supply of long-term medications and fewer for acute medications, in hopes that the patients would try the medications, discover their benefits and purchase them in local pharmacies. Medications are available over the counter in Guatemala.”
Due to the malnutrition in the patients they saw, Aimee and her fellow pharmacists gave every patient of every age a large supply of multivitamins.
Aimee shared that the majority of the medications came prepackaged in baggies with a specific amount of medication in each. They had a label that was pre printed in Spanish and typically only required filling in the patient's name, the number of tablets/capsules per dose and how often to take the dose.
“As pharmacists, we would also check the medications for accuracy, appropriate dose and drug interactions,” said Aimee. “Generally, our bus drivers who transport us to the clinics double as our medication consultants, and they counsel each patient on how to take the medication and any applicable side effects. When they are busy, it is fun to help out—if you speak Spanish—and do the counseling yourself.”
This year, Aimee said there were 35 to 40 people who went on the trip. Some of the roles included general, pediatric and gynecology physicians, translators, dentists, dental assistants, nurses, laboratory technicians, photojournalists, organizational bus drivers and armed security guards. A local ophthalmologist was also on hand two of the four clinic days.
Aimee is grateful for all those she worked hand in hand with on these missions, but even more so, she will never forget the gratitude expressed by those they served.
“At the end of the two days in one village, we pack up our supplies and gather together to spread thanks. Last year, the mayor of Pueblo Nuevo made a speech thanking us for helping his city and then presented the group leader with a certificate granting us all honorary citizens of the city. This year, the mayor of Sanarate presented every single one of us with a handmade tote bag made by villagers, which really brought tears to my eyes,” said Aimee. “The mayor of Morazán presented every single one of our team members with a personalized certificate thanking us for our hard work.”
Aimee knows she and her fellow missionaries are making a profound difference in the lives of those they serve, but what many do not know is the difference they are making in Aimee’s life. And it is her story that she also wants people to know.
Aimee struggles with clinical depression and suicidal episodes. “It is one of the reasons I have always wanted to go on a mission trip—so that I could find purpose in my life and reasons why my life was better spent alive and helping others,” said Aimee. “When I was presented with the opportunity to join this mission trip last year, I was just coming out of one of my severe, bedridden episodes, and it just seemed meant to be. That is why I jumped on it so quickly.”
Aimee added that it’s important to her to take away the stigma of mental illness and to talk openly about it. “I make sure to share my story with all of my fellow volunteers on each mission trip so I can strip away that stigma,” she said. “These trips have helped me to align myself and refocus my priorities.”
A little advice from Aimee for those who have ever considered going on a mission trip: “Definitely pursue it. It will change your life, as it changed mine,” she said, adding that it is important to find a reputable organization with excellent personal security.
“Every year, this trip helps to put my problems into perspective and helps me to realize how blessed I really am to have the life I do,” Aimee said. “I learn to be appreciative for what I have and to always have a generous, giving attitude in all aspects of my life.”