Helping someone in need and listening to amazing music share a common element, according to Anton De Guzman. He says there’s something immeasurable about the feeling you get from either act. He’s in a position to know, as guitarist for Houston alternative rockers Devil Killing Moth and a rapid response nurse at Memorial Hermann Memorial City.
Recently, De Guzman had a chance to help people abroad, as part of a medical mission organized by Faith In Practice. He was part of 497 Boutros Surgery Antigua, a 36-member team of medical professionals who volunteered to travel to Antigua, Guatemala to perform surgeries on area residents in need.
“The hospital that we go to is called Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro,” he says. “That particular hospital has been doing this for 20 years in Antigua. At least prior to us, there had been 496 mission teams beforehand. I have been fortunate to be doing this for three years already and always very lucky to be part of a group of people that have come before me to do the same.”
According to De Guzman, the trip was led by Houston plastic surgeon Dr. Sean Boutros and included urologists, plastic surgeons, GI surgeons, general surgeons, nurses, operating-room technicians and additional support staff. The team performed an assortment of surgeries including cleft lip palate repair, tumor removal, prostate resection and lap cholecystectomy, to name a few of the more common procedures. De Guzman said once the team completed its week, it had performed 90 surgeries before giving way to another volunteer team.
“There is a lot for me to take in every time I go do this mission," de Guzman says. "This mission, we were able to do surgery on 90 people that helped alleviate the pains they carry and improve their lives, along with affecting the families they have. It's also a realization on what others do not have that we often take for granted or realize we possess yet put little value on. The people there have little, and the environment, though beautiful, has its flaws like poor water conditions and smog from vehicles used there.
“Personally for me, I helped a little girl recover after surgery after she had ear reconstruction after being born with a deformed right ear,” he continues. “The following day, she waited for us to give us hugs and the joy on her face and her mom was really priceless for me. Stuff like this, you can't measure in terms of any metrics other than how you feel inside.”
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Of course, De Guzman didn’t leave music behind for his trip. He specifically carried along lots of local music to share with others and remind him of home.
“Music, for me, is my solace," he says. "Growing up as a shy kid, it was a great outlet to feel the things I could not say. And as a proud Houstonian, I wanted to immerse myself with Houston and other Gulf Coast-based artists along with sharing my favorites with some of the medical staff that hanged with me. I felt at home hearing songs from a broad spectrum of artists from Gio [Chamba], Josiah Gabriel, Clory Martin especially, Another Run, Jealous Creatures, PuraPharm, Only Beast, Children of Pop, Dirty Seeds, Los Skarnales, and gotta also have my Tontons and Suffers. The list is really long and I apologize if I forgot to mention a few others, but it helped make me aware of so much talent our city has and to be able to appreciate it alongside doing what I do in my other life, which is nursing."
De Guzman’s medical and musical careers have some other similarities. He’s been a nurse roughly the same amount of time DKM has been together, more than a decade. The band, which released latest LP A Night In the Life Of... back in May is one of Houston’s best-known DIY groups; De Guzman says the volunteer mission benefits from some travel scholarships but is mostly self-funded. Because the mission’s core team has been together for some time now, there’s a familiarity that mirrors the one his bandmates share.
“Definitely working in a group, I noticed we can accomplish a lot more than if we tried doing things alone," de Guzman says. "I also saw that when you are in a group of people that have the mentality of wanting to get things done, you get to accomplish a lot. I feel that same mentality applies in a band. I feel learning to work with your strength helps along with seeking ways to be better. When I first started in the medical mission, there were things or skills I thought I needed to work on, and as I kept coming back to each mission I found areas I've improved in and also reflect on others that still need progress. Just like in a band, you have to constantly try to make yourself a better person in however way that is, mentally, spiritually and physically.”
When De Guzman took his playlist of Houston music along to Guatemala, he was sharing with others something that had made his life better. He said a patient there did the same on this year’s mission.
“We had one guy who we helped repair his lip after a terrible accident," he recalls. "After the surgery, he has gone through other villages taking people to the hospital in hopes they get relief from their problems. On this particular trip, he had to have a follow-up surgery for the second stage of his lip repair, but given the short time we had we could not fit him in this mission's list of patients. He didn't care about missing out, but was more concerned and happy that those he brought were treated.”
De Guzman knows other Houstonians might like to help in these sorts of initiatives.
“You can help in any way, big or small. We have a lot of organizations out there that are doing different types of medical missions in different parts of this country and other countries. With my particular group [Faith in Practice], they have a place where you can donate money or medical supplies that can be used or to sign up to physically volunteer.
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“One thing to also mention is that if you’ve got any crayons or little toys, coloring books that you don't need, donate it. It's amazing to see how much someone's day gets better over there just from having these things. One of the days in our medical mission during triage, we go out and hand out toys and crayons and coloring books to little kids. It was an experience of love that you can feel regardless of your background.”
Now home some weeks after the trip, De Guzman is settling back into music mode. The band plays this coming Saturday at AvantGarden for Jeff Fest III, the annual memorial show honoring Houston music aficionado and radio host Jeff Hunter. After that, they’ll play Notsuoh August 26.
“I just want to thank Dr. Sean Boutros and Robert Malinsky for giving me a chance to be part of this surgical team for the last three years,” De Guzman said. “Serving others with your hands will change you. It brought me closer to those I did not know. It also made me realize that we are all human and that we should care for other people and treat each one with love and respect in the time we have in this world.”
Devil Killing Moth perform alongside Space Villains*, Brian Is Ze, Whit, Dillon Trimm, Cake Rangers and many others on Saturday, July 23 for Jeff Fest III at AvantGarden, 411 Westheimer. Music starts at 8 p.m.; DKM goes on at 11 p.m. on the upstairs stage.