Honduras woman receives life changing surgery in St. Louis

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - The life of a Honduras woman is changed forever, thanks to surgery she received in St. Louis, and it all started with a chance encounter.

As Karina Montalvan tells it, her illness came on fairly suddenly. First, the 39 year-old’s legs gave out, then she couldn't move her hands and couldn't eat.  “Every day, we didn’t know what was going on,” she explains, “it just kept getting worse and worse.”

That was in December 2010. It took doctors in Honduras several months to figure out she had Crohn’s Disease, an auto-immune condition that attacks the gastrointestinal tract. 

Her doctors performed live-saving surgery, but Karina woke up with an ileostomy, a bag attached to her stomach, replacing normal bowel functions.  Then came the infections, and the horrific news that she might not survive.

“They said, we don’t know what is going to happen. Maybe you will recover, or maybe it’s a chance for you to go home and stay with your family and your last days, stay with them,” recalls Karina, as she wipes away tears.

But this past summer, a stroke of fate changed everything.  Her husband, Luis, is a translator for American mission groups.  That's how he met Jan Boring, a gastrointestinal nurse on a mission trip, who happens to be from St. Louis.  She says, “When Luis came up and says, my wife has Crohn’s, I was like, oh my gosh, that’s why I’m here, this is why I’ve been put here, to in some way make some sort of an impact for this person.”

Her impact was ultimately enormous.  She immediately told a gastroenterologist she works with, Dr. Patrick McDonough, about Karina’s case. After a quick consultation, the decision to help her free of charge was easy.

McDonough explains, “So I talked to the hospital administration here at DePaul, and they relayed the story back to a lot of other members in SSM, and every single person really opened their arms and made it easy. They said yes from the get-go.”

On January 9th, Karina was under the knife at SSM DePaul Hospital.  Colorectal Surgeon Dr. Morin Hanson operated on Karina. He explains, “It’s a very challenging operation, and it’s one that you do meticulously, to avoid any further injury. Now having done all of that, then you have to reattach the small bowel back to the large bowel.”

The surgery was successful, and now, Karina is recovering and in remission.  In a few weeks, she’ll fly back to Honduras, back to her job as a school principal, back to her children, and back to living her life.  The grateful mom of three says, “I can’t find the words to say thank you for giving me this chance to live.”