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Medical team provides care to Honduran children

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras (AFPN) -- More than 130 Honduran children received free medical care in San Pedro Sula recently when an 11-person medical team from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, came to the city on a medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE.

This particular exercise focused on problems of the ear.

"We did ear surgery mainly on kids with chronic ear disease," said Capt. (Dr.) Kenneth R. Bergman, a U.S. Army medical resident at Brooke Army Medical Center who is doing a rotation at Wilford Hall. "We operated on 33 children and saw an additional 100 in the clinic. They have an ear, nose and throat doctor in San Pedro Sula, but they don't have microscopes and equipment to do the surgeries."

Bergman said the medical mission served two purposes for the team.

"From the military readiness aspect, we get up to speed on packing up our stuff and preparing to deploy," he said. "But more importantly for the surgeons, who are medical residents, we get to do actual surgeries. You can practice a lot in the lab, but you'll only get better by actually operating."

Maria Leudora Pineda, head nurse in the emergency room at Leonardo Martinez Valenzuela Hospital in San Pedro Sula, said word of the team's visit spread like wildfire among members of the community.

"The poorest people in any country are usually the sickest, and they are the ones who cannot afford the medical care," she said. "When the word starts spreading that a team is coming, it travels quickly. Each time, we get more and more patients coming in. The people remember the previous MEDRETE, and we get people coming to San Pedro Sula from all over the country."

People come days before the team arrives to get on the surgery list, because medical care usually costs a lot of money and this care is free, Pineda said.

She said the medical missions not only benefit the community, but also help the clinic's medical staff, which is often overworked.

"About once a month, Americans come here offering different specialties," she said. "The teams bring the doctors and the specialties needed to help our patients."

The teams also bring their own equipment and supplies, which is beneficial to the hospitals they visit.

"Our team was completely self-contained," said Senior Airman Maria Mathis, an ear, nose and throat operating room technician at Wilford Hall. "We brought everything with us: equipment, supplies, sutures, water, instruments -- everything. The hospital in San Pedro Sula doesn't have much of the surgical equipment, so they wouldn't be able to do the operations unless we brought the equipment with us."

Mathis, who had never visited Honduras before, said the members of the team gained a sense of satisfaction knowing they helped people who could not otherwise afford medical care.

"Without this care, some of these kids would eventually die, because an ear infection can go into their brain," she said.

First Lieutenant Jennifer Tay, an audiologist at Wilford Hall, said along with helping the patients, the medical team gained an appreciation for the quality of medical care people have in the United States.

"There were a lot of children we saw who had something wrong with them that would be so easy to fix in the states, but it goes untreated here because they don't have the money or resources to get it treated," Tay said. "As an audiologist, I did a number of hearing tests and found many children who could be helped by a simple hearing aid. I'd like to come back with some hearing aids donated from the states. I hope to make sure we can do this again."

On average, medical teams from Wilford Hall do between 10 and 12 MEDRETEs each year in countries where health care is often lacking.

"It's a win-win situation all around, because we get education, and the people get free medical care," Bergman said. "We take every opportunity to do these missions whenever we can." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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