Medical professionals from Montana aid Honduras

Medical professionals from Montana aid Honduras 4-29-13

LA ESPERANZA, Honduras - The faces and the countryside are beautiful but life in rural Honduras is day-to-day.  A catastrophic hurricane in 1998 and the unrest to follow has crippled this rich, colorful and historic piece of our hemisphere.

Most families, like Rosa Maria Dominguez's, are sustenance farmers -- growing enough food for the year.  They find comfort in family, neighbors and their faith.

Jose Braulio Medina took me to a shrine for the Virgin Mary that prisoners carved out of a tall hillside, where he points out that, "Each Easter week, there is a big procession."

People here don't have money for daily needs, including medical care.  

Rafael Chacon is a translator for Missoula Medical Aid and interprets for a hospital staff member at the Enrique Aguilar Cerrato Hospital in La Esperanza, who says,  "In rural communities, people live in extreme poverty. She says day after day, it's more and more patients in these kinds of conditions and she said it's like ants coming to them.  The greatest problem is that the population is increasing very, very fast and the poverty rates are still very high.  You'll sometimes see patients who will come in with 15 children and often, they are very young mothers."

Government-run hospitals are strapped.  

Missoula Medical Aid examines about 6,000 Hondurans a year.  On this trip, a surgical team operated at the Enrique Aguilar Cerrato Hospital.  

Aldo Martinez is a Honduran physician assistant who studied in the United States. He tells me the chances of finding such care in this rural region is slim to none, "It's life changing, in the sense of -- there would be no hope for them to get anything remotely near any recovery of function in their limb, so just the fact that they would get an opinion, or some information that might help them get better is a vast improvement. The fact that they would get surgery to fix their problem is light years away from anything that would normally happen."

The types of surgeries Missoula Medical Aid will do depends on the specialty of the surgeon who arrives.  On this trip, orthopedic surgeon Andy Puckett operated on 20 patients.

Brandon Lane is a physician assistant from Boise who joined the team.  He interprets for the director of the Enrique Aguilar Cerrato Hospital, Dr. Rene Ratliff, who explains, "When Dr. Puckett is here, we focus mainly on upper extremity orthopedics.  That's anything from carpel tunnel syndrome to consequences of old injuries, fractures that healed poorly with deformations, or old machete wounds, which are all too common."

One young man had been injured in a farming accident three years ago. Rafael Chacon translates, "They are operating on his hand because he can't move his fingers."

A childhood burn limited the use of another patient's hand.

"We can give a little more length....So these are plastic surgery techniques called Z plasties, which will lengthen the skin 75 percent...We made a lot of gains on that.  We will try to do the same on this little finger," Puckett narrated during surgery.

Another surgery found a large tumor.  

"We just excised a tumor, which we thought was a bursa in the knee, and as we got in there, the tissue was more abnormal than we anticipated, and it came from inside the knee, not just above the patella tendon, so it turned into a much larger mass that needs to be evaluated pathologically," Puckett explained.

The daughter of the tumor patient told a translator she was very thankful to the team to be able to have this done.

So even though effects of a catastrophic hurricane and increasing violence and poverty batter the people of Honduras, resiliency is no stranger here, especially with hope provided by a determined group of volunteers from Montana.   

Please view part two of this special report to air Tuesday, April 30 at 10:00 p.m. that will focus on general medical clinics and outreach efforts held in small, rural communities outside La Esperanza.

Missoula Medical Aid partners with Save The Children.

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