The Salvation Army’s Honduras Medical Brigade is Stomping out Disease and Saving Lives Here
~By Major Mig Lavenbein, The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia
Monday’s expedition started before dawn. We traveled two hours by bus to a school called Santa Cruz de Yojoa. That is the name of the school and also the name of the town. I’m not going to lie. I had to Google that. The Internet never lies. (insert sarcasm)
We left our accommodations around 6:30 am. We stopped halfway to our destination in order to use the last proper bathroom. The journey to our second clinic was up the mountain. And up the mountain. And up the mountain. Did I mention it was up the mountain? We drove up a rather high elevation and onto dirt roads to a school. When we arrived we saw school-aged children in uniforms tidying up and readying the classrooms for us. It made me miss home.
One of our first patients was an elderly man who 85-years young, maybe 4 feet tall and had NEVER seen a doctor in his whole life. His one and only complaint was that his bones hurt from manual labor. He had to work for food. Upon leaving he said “Pray for me, that I’ll live to be 100.” He was absolutely delightful. I felt sad that he was just a small thin man who was 85 and had to work for food.
One of our funniest patients there was a 67-year old women. She explained to the Dr. Kevin that she had achy bones and stomach trouble. He asked (technically, as his interpreter, I asked) her if she knew the cause of her achy bones. She replied, “Old age.” We chuckled. He asked her if she knew what was causing her stomach trouble. She informed him that sometimes she gets a pain in her side, but she just pushes down on, releases gas and then boom, literally it feels better! In the most professional manner we could muster we burst out laughing with her. This story of course is being shared with her consent.
Our rock star dermatologists Dr. Allison Vidimos and Dr. Cheryl Bayart of the Cleveland Clinic are a force to be reckoned with. Among the many ailments they treated were a digital mucus cyst, median rhomboid (tongue infection), a leg infection, and a teenager with a third ear. The teen wasn’t even there to see the doctors about the ear problem, only mentioning that she was insecure because her classmates at school made fun of her about it. She said her father was going to use his machete to take off the ear, but Dr. Vidimos was able to remove the ear safely and easily. Whew!
These two dynamo stars in a given clinic day performed surgeries and procedures under primitive conditions that some of us might cringe, but they are literally stomping out disease and saving lives here. They make the magic happen. Upon removing a tumor from one of her patients, the man was so grateful that he had the translator apologize to Dr. Vidimos. He said “I’m sorry I can’t pay you, but I love you.” Dr. Vidimos told him that was all the payment she needed.
Dr. Vidimos has been coming to Honduras for the past 8 years. She says bringing a resident like Dr. Bavart on the mission trip is a gift. Both of these doctors talked about the privilege of being able to come to Honduras to aid in the humanitarian efforts here. Dr. Vidimos brings a medical resident here year to Honduras, who she ultimately inspires to continue to give in this way. This year’s resident superstar, Dr. Bavart, has already demonstrated a heart full of kindness and sincere compassion during the medical mission.
Dr. Vidimos is the head of her department at the Cleveland Clinic and she is one incredibly impressive doctor. Although I have worked closely with Dr. Vidimos yet on this trip, what I do know is that she is the type that leads by example. I would dare to say that she most likely develops and inspires some of her residents to become not just good, but rather great. I am extremely inspired by the fact that Dr. Vidimos never gives up. She goes above and beyond to give hope to the patients, some of whom for many years have felt hopeless. Rejected. Defeated. Worthless.
Both these doctors care a tremendous deal about each individual person who comes to see them. No one is greater. No one is less. Everyone is of worth. It can be frustrating when more can’t be done, when a culture can’t be taken or lab tests can’t be run on something so routine in the US, for which we just take it for granted. All of the doctors on this trip absolute do the most they can for each patient.
On this day the team examined and treated 458 patients. The doctors are treating everything from the common cold and a variety of infections to things like high blood pressure, asthma and parasites. They have seen patients with the Zika virus as well as the chikungunya virus, both transmitted by mosquitoes.
The poverty I am witnessing here is a bit overwhelming. I found myself wanting to adopt lots of children. I challenge each of us who care more about the world around us. Let us not grow immune to the suffering of the poor. Let us not walk past and pretend like we don’t see them. Instead let us spread acts of compassion and kindness to those in need.