Eglin team spearheads Honduras medical mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mike Chillstrom
  • New Horizons 2006-Honduras Public Affairs
A team of 23 medics from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is leading the way on a two-week, four-site medical readiness training exercise here.

The MEDRETE is part of New Horizons 2006-Honduras, a joint training exercise between the U.S. military and Honduran government that ultimately strives to improve the quality of life for Hondurans.

Among the first people treated was a man who seriously wounded his leg and kneecap while cutting brush with a machete.

“There’s a high rate of infection when there’s a deep wound like that,” said Capt. Dale Harrell, nurse practitioner with the 96th Medical Operations Squadron.

The medics cleaned and sutured the man’s wound.

“He probably wouldn’t have had it treated if we hadn’t been there, so it all worked out for the best,” Captain Harrell said.

Most patients, however, showed up with illnesses typical to the region.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of upper respiratory infections, intestinal problems and skin conditions,” said Dr. Wilmer Almador, a dentist and Honduran medical liaison officer with Joint Task Force-Bravo’s medical element at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. “This is normal for this area.”

Every day, hundreds of local villagers line up to be treated. After they are screened and given preventive health information, the patients are sent to one of the following specialties: dentistry, pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, preventative medicine, the optometry technician or pharmacy.

Each area has seen a steady patient load.

For the dental team from Eglin’s 96th Dental Squadron, one common ailment has been tooth decay, and the solution was to extract those teeth.

“A lot of the people have had very limited dental care, if any, in their life,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Means, 96th DS dentist.

Overall, the MEDRETE team saw nearly 600 patients at the first MEDRETE site at El Recreo. The second MEDRETE site, Santa Ana, is a larger neighborhood where more than 1,100 patients were seen in two days.

“In larger communities, we’re seeing more heartburn, gastritis, high blood pressure and arthritis,” said Capt. (Dr.) Corey Massey, emergency medicine physician. “In the smaller communities, we’re seeing more lice and scabies. I wish we could spend even more time in the small towns because they really have nothing.”

The medical teams will get their wish next week when they are slated to treat patients in the extremely isolated Mosquito Coast region.

“This is definitely a highlight for the physicians because it’s a way to do what you’ve sworn to do,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) James Van Decar, MEDRETE commander and Eglin’s chief of pediatrics. “I didn’t have to go looking for people for this deployment.”

When the New Horizons 2006-Honduras exercise is completed in May, the Joint Task Force here will have built a maternity clinic, four schools and provided free medical care at 14 different locations throughout Honduras.