"Twenty years ago I was living in Bend, and I had an opportunity to vacation to Playa, and the first time I put my feet in the sand, I felt like it was home," said Angel Notion Founder, Lavonna Redman. "I moved my family down here within six weeks."
She held many posts in the tourist, Caribbean community, including hotel owner and restaurateur, before concentrating her efforts on humanitarian work.
"After a few years, there was something I needed to do for the people," she explained. "So I started a school for special needs children."
As the stepmother of a child living with cerebral palsy, it was a cause close to Redman's heart. The school was so successful that the government eventually adopted it from Redman and it now has an enrollment of 200 students per year.
Eventually, a group of American medical professionals contacted Redman about their desire to volunteer in Playa del Carmen and perform pediatric surgeries for special needs patients. Redman organized their trip and identified local children in need of medical help. The mission group, which consisted of 127 people, performed 1,000 surgeries in one week, ranging from correcting cleft palates and feet, to gall bladder surgeries.
"The work that the surgeons did was mind blowing. After that mission was over with I kind of had a different view of what I could do for these people," said Redman.
The town began to see her differently, as well. The mayor called her to his office, and she remembers a tear running down his cheek as he said, "Lavonna, I want to thank you for teaching me how to love my people,'" Redmand recounted.
He insisted on giving her a gift, which he said she must take. Before a crowd of reporters and townspeople, the mayor gave her the keys to a medical clinic and a transport van.
"I looked at him and I said, 'I think you're making a huge mistake. I'm not a nurse; I'm not a doctor.' I just stood there wondering 'What am I going to do?'"
With a staff of two local doctors and a rotating pool of missionaries and volunteers from around the world, Redman founded Angel Notion, which has become a monumental community resource. Playa del Carmen currently has the fastest growing population in Mexico, which puts a high demand on heath care services, and makes it difficult for for-profit medical groups to donate time or resources to the community.
Over a span of 11 years, Angel Notion has filled this health care service gap and provided medical treatment regardless of the patient's ability to pay. They have performed more than 180 pediatric heart surgeries, tested the vision of more than 2,000 children, provided eyeglasses to 1,100 children, assessed or treated 12,800 people for general surgery, and screened more than 20,500 people for diabetes.
There is such a high need for the organization's services that they have outgrown the clinic and will be moving into a new hospital building in February. The new facility will enable them to offer more preventative and specialized care.
Redman recently recruited Bend physician's assistant, April Theisen, to help Angel Notion run the hospital. Theisen will help the organization seek physicians, set up missions, provide patient care and coordinate with other medical volunteers, creating a direct medical pipeline to Central Oregon.
"I've been wanting to do this type of work for quite a while," said Theisen. She participated in an Angel Notion medical mission trip in November and realized what a difference she could make in Playa del Carmen. "With earlier detection, treatment and education, we could impact an entire community's health and well-being; this inspired me."