Statesville residents James and Sheila Foxworthy traveled to Guatemala in February to provide critical medical care to residents.


About five months after local surgeon James Foxworthy retired, he and his wife Sheila packed up a couple of suitcases and headed to the Charlotte airport for a much-anticipated get-away.

Sheila had spent months planning every detail of the trip, and James had been looking forward to using his training and talent to do what he does best — helping ease the pain and suffering of people with chronic health conditions.

Their destination: Cubulco, Guatemala.

After arriving at the airport on February 17, the Foxworthys met up with other members of their team from Global Health Outreach, a ministry of the Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA). Two Iredell Health Systems employees, nurse Tammy Bradburn and surgical tech Natalie Ford, were also part of the 15-member delegation.

The Foxworthys, who have been married 25 years, have made 11 medical mission trips since 2002. While Guatemala has been their most frequent destination, they have also traveled to the Philippines, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. This trip, their first since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020, was their inaugural trip as team leaders.

Cubulco is a poor village of about 60,000 people in the heart of Guatemala. The average monthly income is less than U.S. $500. Hospital Centro Medico Señorita Elena is staffed by medical professionals, but there are no surgeons in the town, meaning residents who need an operation must travel about 90 miles for major medical procedures.

CMDA helps meet the medical needs of the population of Cubulco by sending medical personnel twice a year to perform mostly low-risk surgical procedures. The effort is part of the organization’s global outreach, which involves 40 to 50 teams traveling to Central America, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia each year. “Through these trips, we disciple participants, grow national churches, pray with each patient and share the gospel as well as provide care to the poor and needy,” the organization explains on its website. (

The team from Global Health Outreach, a ministry of the Christian Medical & Dental Association, poses for a photo in Cubulco, Guatemala.

The Foxworthys and all of the medical professionals pay their own expenses — including airfare, food and lodging costs and a trip fee — to participate in these mission trips.

As the logistics coordinator for the Cubulco trip, Sheila — a retired nurse and long-time Hospice volunteer — began making the arrangements for the trip nine months before the departure date. That work involves securing temporary medical licenses from the Guatemalan Health Ministry, malpractice insurance policies, evacuation insurance and travel documents. The team also has to obtain all of the necessary medical supplies — from surgical gloves, masks and gowns to IV kits, sutures and anesthesia — needed for the trip.

“We couldn’t do our part if she wasn’t doing all the logistics,” James said.

All of the supplies were packed and checked at the Charlotte airport and then retrieved after landing in Guatemala City. That’s when things got easier for Sheila and more difficult for James.

“When we land on the ground, I turn it over to him,” she said. “It works well. I use my gifts and he uses his gifts.”

During the eight-day trip, which included a six-hour bus ride after landing in Guatemala, Dr. Foxworthy and the other surgeons performed about 40 operations to help relieve chronic health conditions to their patients. Chronically inflamed gall bladders were removed, decades-old hernias repaired, and cysts and benign tumors excised. Gynecological procedures include hysterectomies and pelvic floor repair.

For James and the other medical personnel, the experience resembles time travel. From the X-ray equipment – the film is actually dried with a hairdryer — to in-room oxygen tanks and 35-year-old EKG equipment, the operating rooms resemble something from the last century. Everything is open surgery. There are no robotic-assisted procedures in Cubulco because there are no robots.

“It’s very primitive,” said James, who performed more than 15,000 surgeries during his career with Piedmont HealthCare before retiring in September of 2023. “You learn how good we have it here — as far as medical care. We’re really impatient.”

The Foxworthys reunited with a young woman whom James operated on years ago when she was a child.

Some of the patients in Cubulco have literally waited years for these procedures, laboring and living through chronic pain. (Local providers screen the patients and determine who will be scheduled for surgery during each visit by a Global Health Outreach team.) After the surgeries, the patients are wheeled outside and taken to a recovery room that resembles an old hotel room, which they share with family members. They don’t have access to modern pain medicine and rely on Motrin and Tylenol — and are generally discharged the following day.

Members of the medical team begin each 10-hour workday with prayer and end with a devotion celebrating the important work God has put them in a position to do. They pray over the patients and with the patients and their families.

In addition to providing much-needed medical care, the visitors also took personal care kits that Bradburn and Ford and their Sunday school class at Western Avenue Baptist Church assembled for each patient. The medical team also purchased blankets in Guatemala and gave one to each patient after the surgery.

“You would have thought we gave them a million dollars,” Sheila said.

The entire experience, according to the Foxworthys, is incredibly meaningful to everyone who participates.

“I’m very blessed to have a skill set that is transferable between cultures,” James said. “It is very rewarding. Everyone is created in the image of God. … As doctors, we have a responsibility to serve these people and meet those needs.”

Sheila Foxworthy (right) and another member of the mission team purchased blankets for all of the patients they treated.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the April edition of “IFN Monthly.”

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