Award Honorees

James Turner

An experienced anesthesiologist, James Turner ‘69 traveled annually to Guatemala with a volunteer surgical team for 20 years to help those without access to proper medical treatment.

Turner initially pursued a degree in engineering at the U of M, inspired by his father. However, after getting a job working for the bioengineering department, he became interested in biomedical engineering. That led him to become an intensive care specialist, doing his residency in anesthesia.

As a practicing anesthesiologist, Turner wanted to create a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle for himself. He started painting and volunteered his time on medical missions in 1998. “I initially took the place of an anesthesiologist who was unable to go on a mission for a year and I was just going to go temporarily, but I liked it so much that I wanted to come back,” Turner said. The team of 40-50 medical professionals went to Guatemala for two weeks every year. They traveled to small towns that had no hospitals and provided free medical services. Until restrictions from the government made it necessary to serve in a different way.

In 2009 Turner heard about a hospital in Lake Atipa, Guatemala, that had been destroyed in a mud slide and desperately needed volunteers and donations. Turner coordinated with a local hospital back in the US to donate old anesthesia machines that would typically be given back to the manufacturer—a significant upgrade to the hospital in Guatemala. For the next 10 years he traveled with a group of about 25 people to the hospital to volunteer his time and expertise.

“What I found was most gratifying was that when you start with something where you don't have anything, you add a little bit, and that triggers this whole cascade of other people getting involved,” said Turner.

His trips also inspired his sons, who went with him at least once so that they could see the difference he was making. His middle son, who is now 33, was so inspired by the mission trip that he went back the following 9 years and become a surgeon.

In 2018, Turner retired from his profession and from his annual mission trips. “The reason wasn't that I didn't want to go back," said Turner. "What I do is intense enough that if I'm not practicing regularly I didn't feel like I could do it well.”

“I grew up White and privileged and I feel like I had a very limited world view by not having a multicultural experience,” said Turner. “When I started doing mission work and working in a poor, Spanish culture, it was more than a little bit of an education. It broadened my world view and showed me how there is real dignity and value in people that don't have a lot of money and aren't privileged like I am.”

To the current students of Minnetonka, Turner advises that they find time to volunteer. “The rewards of volunteering greatly outweigh the expense,” said Turner. “Look for a way to give yourself up and you will be rewarded ten fold.”


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