Americans, Hondurans team to fix broken bones

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mike Meares
  • Joint Task Force - Bravo Public Affairs
A medical team of eight people from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, treated more than 200 Hondurans during a two-week training exercise Aug. 5 to 19.

The team of eight medical professionals, led by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Eric Ritchie, spent two weeks at Hospital Esquela during an orthopedics medical readiness training exercise Aug. 5 through 19, where they treated more than 90 patients in the operating room. 

They were joined by members of the medical community from Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, and Honduran resident doctors at the hospital for a "subject matter expert exchange of information."

"The fractures we see here are a lot worse than (what) we see in the states, because they are falling from much greater heights," said Dr. Ritchie, the chief of pediatric orthopedics at Wilford Hall.

Some families in Honduras make a living off the mangos, cherries and bananas harvested from trees. As soon as some of these children are old enough to climb, they are helping their families earn a living by harvesting the fruit.

"That's their livelihood," said Staff Sgt. Jolie Zygulski, orthopedic technician. "There are a lot of elbow fractures that never heal."

A 6-year-old Honduran boy, who was hit by a taxi cab in the streets of Tegucigalpa, had two screws placed into his tibia by doctors from Wilford Hall Medical Center, San Antonio, to repair the open fracture caused by the incident. 

Not all surgeries were due to injuries sustained from falling out of trees or being hit by cars. In the case of 11-year-old Karen, the weight of her body is enough to break her fibulas because she suffers from a rare brittle bone disease -- osteogenesis imperfecta.

"This is a life-changing event for most of them," said Dr. Ricardo Aviles, a JTF-Bravo medical officer. "These are injuries (or illnesses) that have been plaguing them for some time."

The Honduran doctor said medical professionals from Honduras have limited resources to repair the broken bones of children, especially for families who cannot afford medical care. That is why people go to Hospital Esquela when something happens. The medical care is free, even when the U.S. servicemembers join the ranks.

"I'm learning a lot from their techniques," said Dr. Richie. "They have to do a lot more without the benefit of technology and they do it very well."

Once surgeries are finished, the young patients are transferred from the operating room to the recovery room where they are laid on a bed with well-used padding. Maj. Liz Cooley, a recovery room nurse, works with them in the recovery room to ease their pain as best as possible while preparing them to be transferred to the children's ward. Upon arrival in the ward, they are lucky if it is not full and there is a bed with padding available.

The children will be kept as residents of the ward until their wounds have mended. The families, in the meantime, provide meals, clothing and company throughout their stay.

During the two-week MEDRETE, Americans and Hondurans put their heads together to repair the lives -- and bones -- of more than 200 patients. When the Americans depart, they will leave the Honduran medical residents at the hospital more prepared and confident to perform medical procedures -- and will have learned a little for themselves along the way.