Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jesse Murphy

Niwot residents help villagers in South America


August 5, 2017

Courtesy Photo From left, Lisa Lee, K. Lynn Walker and Mary-Jean Fickes pause for a photo on their medical mission trip to Eccuador.

Three Niwot residents have been taking their skills abroad to help those in need.

K. Lynn Walker, M.D., is a doctor in Longmont; Lisa Lee is a pediatric nurse practitioner; and Mary-Jean Fickes is an interpreter and translator. The three friends use their professional skills on medical mission trips to underdeveloped parts of the world.

While Lee is new to these trips, Walker and Fickes are seasoned veterans and the three met under happenstance.

“We all met at Pilates of Niwot,” Walker said. “Our instructor knew we were all doing the same work and said, ‘You have to meet each other.’”

They talked, and at the time, Fickes was working with a group that traveled to El Salvador, while Walker had just joined in with the non-profit Adopt-A-Village.

The Colorado Springs-based group mainly works in Ecuador, but had a planned mission to the Galapagos Islands.

“Lynn told me about the trip to Galapagos right after the El Salvador trip was over,” Fickes said. “We worked there for a week. It was a really neat experience. It worked out really great, so we just kept working together.”

From there, they went to Ecuador with Adopt-A-Village last year, and the trip came with some unexpected circumstances.

About 10 hours after their flight took off, a 7.8 earthquake hit the country, especially the city of Cuenca.

“Over 650 people died in that earthquake,” Walker said. “We had just left the day that happened. It was pretty amazing, we had just got out 10 hours before.”

They went back to the area in April 2017, treating over 700 patients in the region most affected by the quake. This was Lee’s first medical mission trip.

“We went to tiny little one-street villages as well,” Fickes said. “That was a really unique experience. We got to know the villagers. They fed us lunch and we got pictures of the area and with the people.”


Fickes started studying Spanish in high school and continued her multi-lingual education throughout her career, earning a degree in translation and interpretation.

Walker is originally from Louisville, KY, and went to Northwestern for her bachelor’s degree before earning her M.D. at the University of Louisville.

She also began her international experiences at a young age, going to Argentina in high school, followed by trips to Nicaragua and Mexico.

Walker has been a family physician in Longmont since 2003, and does at least one mission trip per year.

Over the years of going on medical mission trips, Walker has picked up some Spanish as well.

“When we first met I said I could speak some Spanish,” Walker said. “She [Fickes] was giving me some basic pointers and said I could speak better than she expected.”

Both Walker and Fickes laughed, relating a story of their first mission trip together.

“She actually speaks really well,” Fickes said.


Both Fickes and Walker agree that the biggest part of their trips involve education.

“We partner with local medical schools,” Walker said. “So we actually teach medical students while we’re treating the patients, which is very cool. It’s more than just basic ‘case medicine’ where you go into a village and treat people. When you leave, they don’t have anything.”

The partnership exists with medical schools in the Ecuadorian cities of La Manta and Cuenca, and Walker said that this aspect is crucial to their trips.

“We each have a team of three or four medical students,” Walker said. “They’re observing and absorbing all of the information we can provide to them and also treating the patients in these remote villages that don’t have access to a doctor. A lot of these people also have lost their homes due to the earthquake.”

Fickes added that faculty of those two schools are involved in the process.

“Not only do we work with the students for training, we also work with their professors who are doctors,” Fickes said. “Instead of being a large group, we have a small group that works closely with the locals. We’re able to take care of more people because the professors are participating as well.”

Along the same line, Walker said that leaving something behind means the most out of all.

“For me, the part I really like about Adopt-A-Village is the partnership with the medical students,” Walker said. “They’re really like sponges, they absorb everything that you’re saying. And you know that after you leave, they’re going to keep using the wisdom that you imparted to them to keep helping patients. That’s what sets this type of trip apart from anything else I’ve done.”

She added that the program is geared to help the local population manage their health care on their own while an outside presence is not available.

“It’s become more a sustaining program, which I think is integral,” Walker said. “The ‘case medicine’ approach of years past is evolving into a completely different level where you’re making more of a sustainable impact.”

The majority of their work in Ecuador consists of routine medical care, but there are always extenuating circumstances.

“Every time we go, there’s a lot of people coming in to get a second opinion or just to get a well-being check,” Fickes said. “But then you get somebody who has a life-threatening cancer or cataracts … You always get a percentage of people with basic stuff, then there’s also those people who you know that you’re really changing someone’s life. When you’re able to do that, that’s pretty big.”


The group plans to continue the trips, including a possible return to Ecuador in April 2018.

Anyone wishing to help the cause can visit http://www.adoptavillageinternational.org. Mention medical mission trips to Ecuador to earmark specifically for this cause.

“We stay in basic accommodations,” Walker said. “Sometimes the villagers or local teachers feed us breakfast or lunch. It’s something that we’re going to continue to do as long as we’re able. It’s an experience for sure.”

“We do these trips as regularly as we can afford to,” Fickes added. “Any help would be appreciated.”

As for funding of the trips, those who volunteer pay for their own travel, but to Fickes, Walker and Lee, that’s far beyond the point.

“You just get the job done wherever you are,” Walker said. “I think all of us are like that. This is what we’re dealing with and this is what we’re going to do with it.”

The medical students in Ecuador also get to learn a lesson beyond medical care.

“I think also that we’re setting an example for the students that there’s more to life than just going to work and making money,” Fickes said.

The three also get to bring something back with them.

“From these trips it always seems like I get more than I give,” Walker said. “You realize how little these people have and how fortunate we are. What seems to us to be a small thing makes a world of difference to them. It’s extremely rewarding.”


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