The day on which the idea for GUIMEDIC was born started just like any other for 23-year-old Carolina Zuheill.
It was an early morning preparing for patients to arrive at her small clinic in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Jalisco. Coffee was brewing and Carolina was filling out requests by typewriter for medication that would take 2 months to arrive to where she was.
Just like every aspiring doctor in Mexico, Carolina was required to complete a year of social service to complete her training. While some of her classmates decided to stay closer to the city, Carolina went off the beaten path. She knew it would be a challenge to live in a rural village for an entire year, but what she didn’t expect was just how little resources she would be given to do what she needed to do to treat her patients. She arrived to a dusty, abandoned clinic with just one desk, a couple of chairs, and a rusting patient bed.
At around 9 am on March 10th of 2010, Dra. Zuheill heard a soft knock on the door of the clinic. She opened the door to a middle-aged indigenous woman named Maria with a bundle of blankets on her back and shoes whose souls had almost completely worn through. The bundle of blankets was a baby, and it’s mother said:
Doctor, I have been anxious... My baby has not had a good night. He has been sick for days and has a high temperature… I am worried because I have no money. I have nothing to feed him... The only thing I have to give him is tortilla chips soaked in water, but he doesn't even want those… I live about a day's walk from here, so I walked and slept among the cactus trees… I came here to see if you could help me.
Upon unswaddling the child, Dra. Zuheill’s attention was caught by the baby’s lack of responsiveness. Every bone in the child’s body was visible, he had a severe congenital malformation, and he was barely breathing. Within mere moments, the baby’s heart suddenly gave up.
Carolina went into action to attempt to resuscitate the fragile child with the little resources she had available to her, but she knew her efforts were futile. Carolina thought in that moment, “How am I going to tell her [Maria] that there is nothing more I can do? How am I going to tell her that walking for so many hours to get help from me didn’t work?”. Dra. Zuheill presented the bad news to Maria, but in desperation Maria begged her to do more. Carolina tried to keep her composure and explain what had happened to the baby, all the while feeling helpless.
The child had no official identification to help with the filing of the death certificate. Thoughts flooded Carolina’s mind about how many live and die without anybody knowing. News of what was happening in the clinic spread throughout the surrounding village. This led the whole community to show up and help with the burial of the child. Carolina couldn’t remain with them for long, though. She went off on her own, looked up to the sky, and asked God how this was possible. Tears ran down her cheeks, her heart was broken, and her outlook on life was changed forever.
In that moment, she describes that she was overtaken with an intense feeling to do something for people like Maria. She spent the next few days reflecting on what she could do, and says she asked what God’s direction for her life would now be. Dra. Zuheill explains that the congenital condition the baby had would have been preventable with the same simple prenatal vitamins given to all pregnant women who have access to medical care. In Carolina’s mind and heart, no one should have to die of a preventable condition.
Carolina finished her year of social service, spending the remaining months planning what is now GUIMEDIC.
When she returned to the city with this new dream, where she was occasionally laughed at and misunderstood. Support slowly grew for GUIMEDIC, but the first few years consisted of just Carolina alone packing a backpack with medical supplies and medicine samples from doctor friends to set out and look for places where she could help. She did become exhausted at times, but her spirit was unbreakable. She claims her faith in God pushed her to continue, as well as her belief that her patients are not just patients, but her friends and family.
From a team of 1 to now over 1,200 volunteers, GUIMEDIC continues today to reach the areas where there is no doctor.
GUIMEDIC is currently established in 32 communities covering 5 states of Mexico. But Dra. Carolina is not done dreaming yet; She hopes GUIMEDIC can reach every state in Mexico, and then spread to Central and South America.
Carolina states she is still currently a good friend of Maria’s, who now has 2 children that she has entrusted Carolina to care for since birth. She would like the GUIMEDIC community to know that being a doctor is more than making money, it is a human profession where we deal with people who have not only physical needs, but spiritual needs as well.
As doctors, we must always provide both physical and spiritual service, because only then we will see the changes we want.