Posted by: calloftheandes | September 18, 2015

The Gift of Life for a Young HIV/AIDS Patient in Ecuador

by Roger Reimer

The parents of “Miss S” were desperate when they came to the AIDS/HIV clinic at Hospital Vozandes-Quito. They were seeking help for their 19-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with HIV two months earlier. In short, they believed she was dying.

“They came to tell us that their daughter was not doing well,” said missionary nurse Betty Van Engen who has led the clinic nearly since its inception in 1990 when the disease was relatively unknown in Ecuador. “She was losing a lot of weight and was unable to keep food down. She was very weak, unable to carry out normal duties.”

Typical of many HIV/AIDS patients—estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) at 50,000 people in Ecuador where even today they are stigmatized—it’s often family members who make first contact with clinic staff, unsure if they can be trusted.

Betty Van Engen

Betty Van Engen

Miss S’s parents were also skeptical, but their fears were quickly allayed when they met Van Engen, who has served at Reach Beyond’s hospital in Quito for more than 35 years. Being reared by missionary parents in Mexico, she feels at home in the Latin American culture. Her deep understanding of the people, fluency in Spanish and solid biblical background have combined to make her an excellent counselor, providing emotional and spiritual care to HIV/AIDS patients to complement her nursing care.

After meeting with the parents, the team suggested they take their daughter to a doctor. “We became aware that she was so sick she would need to be hospitalized,” Van Engen explained. “Due to the fact that we cannot provide the free antiretroviral therapy, we then recommended she go to a government hospital to receive medical treatment.”

While Miss S’s physical problems were severe, Van Engen and the staff were even more concerned about her mental health—a deep depression that was taking away her will to live.

Betty Van Engen began to work in the field of HIV-AIDS in the early 1990s in Ecuador. She is cited in this 2003 newspaper article that appeared in La Hora.

Betty Van Engen began to work in the field of HIV-AIDS in the early 1990s in Ecuador. She is cited in this 2003 newspaper article that appeared in La Hora.

“We were able to counsel her about her emotional depression and express to her that God loves her and wants to restore her health and be a part of her life,” related Van Engen who has shown an unusual ability to deal with patients who have poor outlooks due to chronic illnesses. “We provided her with some Christian booklets for her to read some encouraging Bible passages as she was able. She received them well.”

Several weeks later, Miss S’s father returned to the hospital and gave a report that team members weren’t hoping to hear. “He was very sad as there had been little improvement in his daughter’s overall health, although he did say she was a bit stronger,” Van Engen said.

Undeterred, the team followed up with Miss S, setting up a meeting with her and her doctor. “This time she decided to be more proactive in attempting some other medications and taking more counseling to break the downward cycle,” Van Engen explained. “We weren’t sure we would be successful, but God prevailed in favor of restoring her health.”

With additional Christian counseling, specific medical treatments and encouragement, Miss S actively cooperated in overcoming her depressive behavior. As a result, she started to improve.

“In the past month she has begun to gain weight,” Van Engen noted. “She’s now able to eat properly. She has a smile on her face and dresses up when she comes to see us at our clinic.”

Although she’s still unsure about Miss S’s spiritual condition, her outlook on life and overall behavior have changed dramatically. “She has chosen life instead of death which means she has accepted God’s perspective of life for all people.”

“We expressed to her in one counseling session that God intends for us to live—not to slide into death,” Van Engen added. “At 19 years of age she still has many opportunities to study and become a productive member of her family and society in general.”

Miss S is just one of about 100 HIV/AIDS patients who come to the clinic regularly, seeking medical help and emotional/spiritual support.

Van Engen also presents seminars for private physicians and has developed workshops on how to counsel patients before conducting the HIV test.

“The clinic is an ambulatory care unit in our Christian mission hospital,” she says. “We are a smaller unit which means we can provide more individualized and personalized care as well as counseling on social and emotional issues and giving information on how to help prevent further infections.”

“The emphasis is on life rather than death,” Van Engen concluded.



  1. […] invested time in befriending the national nurses who worked in our hospital,” added missionary nurse Betty Van Engen, who had served in Shell before moving to Reach Beyond’s Hospital Vozandes-Quito. “She would […]

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