In May of 2016 I had the privilege of joining a medical team as they served the rural villages of Santa Barbara, Honduras. Summit in Honduras is an organization started by a friend of mine, Maggie Ducayet. She and her husband founded this nonprofit to provide outreach to the impoverished families living in the western regions of the country. Maggie works with local partners to collaborate on medical, veterinary and education projects in the area. At least once a year, a group of doctors, nurses and paramedics from the United States travel to Honduras with Maggie to set up one day medical clinics in remote villages. This year I was given the opportunity to join them and provide logistical support. Even after traveling in other developing countries around the world, my time in Honduras was still a very eye-opening experience.
After flying into the city of San Pedro Sula and then taking a long bus ride to Santa Barbara, our team went straight to the town’s medical center. We spent the afternoon organizing the medications and supplies we’d need for the mobile clinics we’d be setting up in the coming days. We also prepared the emergency response kits that would be distributed to the village “Health Guardians.” Through a partnership between Santa Barbara’s clinic, the Red Cross and Summit in Honduras, a resident in each village had been trained to offer basic medical care. This program had been extremely successful, allowing villagers to address minor injuries and health issues without requiring transportation to the nearest clinic, sometimes hours away.
The next day our team was up at dawn and back on the bus, traveling to the location of our first clinic, an orphanage in San Jose de los Colinas. I spent the day checking the children in for their annual well child exams. I took their temperatures and testing their vision on an eye chart before sending them over to one of the doctor’s stations. With the help of a Spanish translator, the physicians administered the exams and found most of these children to be quite healthy. Cleaning out waxy ears and treating infected hangnails were the primary medical procedures done that day.
As the week progressed, the work got more difficult. We set up our makeshift medical clinics in schools, churches and even in the homes of a villagers. Hundreds of residents came through our clinics, some for simple check-ups and others facing extremely complicated medical problems. One man came in with a wound on his leg that had developed gangrene. A entire family exhibited the advanced symptoms of tuberculosis. An elderly man was in heart failure and another had a large tumor in his abdomen. Most of the villagers complained of headaches and intestinal problems, the result of contaminated drinking water. Working the triage station, I was the first to see most of the patients and would decide which of the doctors on staff should treat them.
One woman brought in her tiny infant, weighing less than seven pounds. As I asked her the standard check-in questions, I assumed my limited Spanish skills had failed me when I thought I heard her say that the baby was 6 weeks old.
“Seis dias?” I asked, assuming she’d said six days.
She shook her head. “No, seis semanas.” My heart sank for her and her child. The pediatrician on our team examined the infant immediately and soon we were scrambling to find a vehicle to take the woman and her baby to the nearest hospital, more than two hours away. As the truck pulled away, the pediatrician shook her head and gave me a sad look.
“That child won’t survive,” she said. “All we’re doing is giving the mother the peace of mind that she did everything she could for her baby.”
Seeing the incredible challenges faced by the villagers of Honduras was a grim reminder of how incredibly lucky we are in the United States. We often take things like clean water and quality medical care for granted. It’s easy to forget there are people like Maggie Ducayet in the world doing everything they can to improve the lives of people they don’t even know.
On our last day in Honduras, our team had the day off, so we went the Mayan ruins in Copan and toured a local cocoa farm. The next morning we packed up our things, flew home to the U.S. and returned to a life very different from that of the villagers we’d spent our week serving.