A mission brought home

by Sonja J. Keith

Two men from Belize traveled to Conway in late October to accept a special gift.

Dr. Tom Roberts and his wife, Joanie, were members of a medical mission trip to Belize in June. Nearing the end of their trip, they were approached by two families who desperately sought help for loved ones in excruciating pain and in need of knee replacement surgeries.

The trip was organized by The Iguana Squad, a Christian nonprofit charity dedicated to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and bettering the lives of the people, their children and communities of Belize. The group was founded in 2008 by Rik Sowell, a Conway architect.

Both men live in Sarteneja, a fishing village in northern Belize.

Grimoaldo Cobb, 75, started experiencing pain in 1998 and began having trouble walking. “It was very hard to walk,” he said, adding that he needed the help of a cane.

Fernando Alamilla, 56, had experienced knee pain for many years and was suffering “more and more and more.” He recalls on the mission team’s last day a “big pain” came to his knee. Although the condition of his knee made walking difficult, Fernando helped at the Nazarene church where he was a member.

Upon examining the two men, Dr. Roberts concluded there was little he could do in Belize. The medicine for the trip had been exhausted on other patients. Still, he and his wife felt a strong burden placed on their hearts to help — even if it meant bringing the two men to Conway for the surgery, which was not possible to get in Belize.

“I said ‘God, we’re in your hands. Send us where I should go,’” Fernando said.

Grimoaldo can’t help but get emotional in remembering that initial meeting in Belize. He knew time was short before the medical team would be returning to the United States. He described the doctor as “kind.” Dr. Roberts asked a lot of questions about the knee and said he would see what he could do to help. “God is good,” Grimoaldo said.

The Roberts collected contact information for the two men and returned home. “God laid it on my heart to see if I could help them,” Dr. Roberts said.

What followed were conversations in Arkansas with Conway Regional and other medical professionals, email exchanges with those in Belize, travel plans and working out the logistics for Grimoaldo and Fernando, along with a couple of family members, to travel to Arkansas for the procedure.

“A lot of things had to happen with a lot of little miracles along the way,” Dr. Robert said. “It’s been a real blessing to get to know them.”

The men and their families are very appreciative to everyone involved who made the trip and surgery possible: Iquana Squad founder/director Rik Sowell, Joanie and Dr. Tom Roberts and Bill and Pam Milburn.

The Milburns opened their South Conway home to the Alamillas, and the Roberts hosted the Cobb family during their stay. Bill has been involved in the construction projects in Belize since the beginning of the Iguana Squad.

In September, the men received news that they would be traveling to the United States for the surgeries. When he received the email about making the trip, Grimoaldo said, “I see God has heard my petition, and he’s the one who will guide me to get to here.”
They arrived in Conway Oct. 27, and the procedures were done two days later. “I’m here thanks to God,” Grimoaldo said.

Fernando said prior to the surgery he “walked like a duck, but now I walk straight. We feel very happy.”

Both were impressed with the excellent treatment they received at Conway Regional and by the caring staff.

Technology played a big part in making the trip happen, especially in a timely manner. Skype also made it possible for the men to communicate with their families in Belize. They were able to see the men walk for the first time on their new knees.

“I’m impressed with how hard they are working on rehab,” Dr. Roberts said. “They are well on their way to where they need to be.”

Fernando said while he wasn’t sure where he was going, he felt God was sending him and he had seen the hand of God. He cited scripture (Exodus 35:20): He will send an angel ahead of me to take care of me and to show me the place.

“Thanks to God, Dr. Roberts and Bill. They’ve been the angels God sent to me . . . I’m happy to have my knee replacement. Nothing is impossible when you have faith and God is with you.”

Grimoaldo is thankful for the medical team and the kindness they were shown. He is especially appreciative of Joanie and her help with physical therapy following the surgery. “I will never forget,” he said. “God bless America and its people.”

For everyone involved, Fernando said, “I feel a big love in my heart for them . . . God bless each one of them.”

Dr. Roberts made house calls to check on the two men. The men and their family members were given follow-up instructions to continue their rehabilitation therapy at home. Both men expect to be more active following the procedures.

“My life will change because I won’t feel this hard pain,” Grimoaldo said. “There was a lot I couldn’t do.”

Dr. Roberts noted that several different individuals and groups came together to make the procedures possible, including Jim Lambert and Conway Regional Medical Center, Conway Anesthesia Consultants, Conway Regional Physical Therapy, Eddie Glover and Gary Jacks with Stryker Corporation.  

“I feel 10 to 20 times better,” Grimoaldo said.

“It has changed my life and my family’s life,” Fernando said, adding that it sometimes is difficult to find adequate words to express his happiness. “Thanks to God and to those who worked to make this a reality.”

Dr. Roberts and Joanie plan to make another medical mission trip in 2014, with plans to check in on Fernando and Grimoaldo and their progress. In the meantime, they will be checking in with them via Skype.

Sowell is also exploring whether a surgery clinic can be built in Belize where procedures can be performed by a local physician as well as doctors on mission trips to the country. “It could be a huge blessing for a lot of people,” Dr. Roberts said. Funding is key if the project is to move forward. (For more information, visit theiguanasquad.com or email [email protected])

“It was a privilege to participate with Dr. Roberts in such a worthwhile effort,” said Sowell. “These gentlemen will have a quality of life they did not expect.”