Patient Story: Dixon Chavez


At a recent Mobile Clinic in the steep hills of Nueva Esperanza, Renelmo Chavez arrived early in the morning and was first in line with his son, Dixon, riding on his shoulders. Dixon is 16, but he’s unable to walk on his own due to severe rheumatoid arthritis that began when he was just five years old.

The causes of juvenile arthritis are unknown, though it is usually an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation and joint damage. In children, the resulting swelling, pain and stiffness severely limits growth and function. There is no cure; treatment focuses on maintaining quality of life and function with physical therapy and medication. Though Dixon’s condition is currently in remission, it’s left him with paralyzing pain in his hands and knees. He had a wheelchair, but it’s useless in the treacherous terrain near his house.

dixon2For years, Dixon’s dad carried him down the winding path to the paved street below each morning to take him to school. But now Dixon is too big and it’s too much of a strain for his father to carry him every day. So while his dad still leaves early in the morning to work, Dixon stays home with his 13-year old sister Ruth, who goes to school in the afternoons. His mother works as a housekeeper in another district of Lima, while his other three siblings go to school and work to support the family.

Dixon likes to spend his time watching soccer games, and says he wants to be able to walk again. He’d also like to go back to school, where his favorite subject was English. He already knows the basics: “how are you?” and “my name is.” Perched on a wooden chair at the doorway of his house, he helps his father to feed the chickens that run underfoot.

Renelmo, who moved with his family to Lima seven years ago so that Dixon could be treated in the national children’s hospital, is completely devoted to his son’s care. And between trying to earn a living driving a mototaxi in another part of town, and carrying Dixon to his various physical therapy and doctors’ appointments, he stays pretty busy. “Life here is hectic,” he says. “There are many things we need that we can’t get.”

MEDLIFE follow-up nurse Ruth Verona is on the case, accompanying them to appointments and making frequent home visits. She hopes medical specialists may help restore some of his range of motion. “The physical therapy is on hold for now, until we get his X-rays back,” she says. “We have to make sure that it will not cause any further damage to his fragile joints and bones.”

We’re also working with Renelmo and volunteer engineers on a new project: building a wheelchair ramp outside the house that would give Dixon some mobility, and hopefully ease Renelmo’s burden as well. “I just worry sometimes about what will happen to him when I can’t take care of him anymore,” Renelmo says. Though Dixon is nearly as big as he is, his father launches him onto his shoulders easily and without complaint as he heads out to yet another doctor’s appointment.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.