Posted on Jun 29, 2020

USF College of Nursing Assistant Director Wins 2020 Janice Drake CRNA Humanitarian Award

USF College of Nursing Assistant Director Wins 2020 Janice Drake CRNA Humanitarian Award

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has chosen USF College of Nursing assistant professor Karla Maldonado as the 2020 recipient of the Janice Drake CRNA Humanitarian Award, a prestigious honor recognizing a nurse anesthetist who provides anesthesia, education, and training in some of the most underserved areas in the world.

Maldonado, DrAp, CRNA, APRN, is the assistant director of the college’s Nurse Anesthesia program.

For the past nine years, she has traveled to San Lucas, Guatemala, to provide life-changing humanitarian surgery and anesthesia care to local residents. Through the San Lucas Foundation, she has transformed the lives of hundreds of patients in the rural town where the local clinic lacks surgical or anesthesia care.

“It’s an amazing and incredibly humbling experience to be recognized by my peers,” she said. “All the other award winners are very well-known for their humanitarian efforts, so I’m quite honored.”

Dr. Maldonado said her commitment to organizing surgical mission trips to indigent areas began more than a decade ago when she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and had it successfully removed after finding a top surgeon.

“I was very blessed I had the knowledge and resources to get the best of care and to get back to my normal life as quickly as possible, and most people in the world don’t have that,” she said. “So I needed to give back. I needed to help people who didn’t have what I had.”

In 2011, Dr. Maldonado went on her first surgical mission trip to India. A few months later, she traveled to Guatemala on another surgical mission trip, where she met her husband, a local Guatemalan surgeon.

She has since returned each year to continue what has become her life’s work. She and her husband had planned to return to Guatemala this June, but the trip was cancelled due to the travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members from the San Lucas Foundation provide surgical and anesthesia care during a mission trip to San Lucas, Guatemala.

Since her husband grew up in San Lucas, the mission trips have a very personal connection.

“It’s like giving back to your hometown,” she said. “Whenever we walk down the street, we run into either someone who is a relative, somebody we did surgery on, or somebody who needs care. That’s what brings us back year after year, and that’s why we’re so committed to improving the health of the community there.”

She said it’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide life-saving surgeries and anesthesia care to those who don’t have access to it.

Karla Maldonado holds a child during a surgical humanitarian mission trip to San Lucas, Guatemala through the San Lucas Foundation.

“It just pulls on your heart strings. You want to do as much as you can for everybody,” she said.

In years past, the weeklong trips include surgeries, as well as an educational training component for local health care providers. Organizers have taught skills in airway management, cardiac resuscitation, and perioperative nursing.

Volunteers from the San Lucas Foundation provide education during a mission trip to San Lucas, Guatemala.

“The education piece is just as important as the surgery piece – to be able to give them the skills and the resources to take care of patients,” she said.

Dr. Maldonado has been involved in nurse anesthesia education for 15 years and was an ICU nurse for eight years before becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Oakland University, her Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesiology from the University of Detroit Mercy, and her Doctor of Anesthesia Practice from the University of Michigan.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing