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Medical Element helps village of El Horno

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs
  • Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs
While many Americans are getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July with cookouts, fireworks and family outings, Soldiers and Airman from the Medical Element at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, volunteered their four-day weekend to help those in need.

Approximately 40 American and Honduran servicemembers traveled from the base to the village of El Horno, Honduras, to provide medical care to the locals as part of a Medical Readiness Training Exercise, or MEDRETE.

The village, atop a nearby mountain with 5,000 feet elevation, is located 15 kilometers East-Northeast of the base. To drive there, it takes nearly three hours along a rugged mountain pass, which is sometimes washed out and impassable during the rainy season. For this reason, the team took the seven-minute flight via a UH-60 helicopter instead, maximizing their time and ensuring safe transport of personnel and the 650 pounds of Class VIII medical supplies.

Planning took approximately 30 days, according to the Army Maj. (Dr.) Richard Malish, the officer in charge of this mission and the Medical Element flight surgeon. The doctor volunteered to head up this mission because he's lead similar missions in places like Iraq, Kazakhstan, and Kenya.

"You're bringing acute relief to people whose quality of life isn't good," he said. "You bring about improvement in their quality of life, which is a short-term benefit."

Long term benefits include preventative health education, immunizations, and multi-vitamins, which won't have a noticeable impact right now, Dr. Malish added.

"It's not a symptom relief thing, but we're hoping by doing that, we're prolonging their survival curve and quality years of life," he said. "Our hope would be that they develop independence and a system of providing that care for themselves."

El Horno, which translates to "the oven," is home to approximately 450 people. Even more people traveled by foot from other villages when they heard the Americans were providing medical care and medicines for them. The two-day total for this mission was 1,072 patients, with 505 the first day, and 567 the second.

Medical services offered included health screenings, preventative medicine, general medical care, dental care, pharmacy services and a cervical cancer screening. Doctors from the Honduran Ministry of Health also attended the MEDRETE and facilitated much of the medical care alongside the American doctors, nurses and technicians.

The patients, who were standing in line before the team even arrived, were first greeted and given a preventative health briefing, which consisted of information on basic food and personal hygiene.

"The main goal of preventative medicine is to educate them on how to better care for themselves, versus us having to come back here every year," said Tech. Sgt. Mary Preolette, the noncommissioned officer in charge for this MEDRETE mission. Families were also given soap, multi-vitamins, and anti-parasitic medications. Overall, Sergeant Preolette described the experience as "awesome," admitting she didn't quite no what the mission was when she first got orders to deploy here from Grand Forks AFB, N.D.

After the preventative medicine class, nurses took a brief medical history and assessed their condition. Children and pregnant females were given priority, along with those who traveled the greatest distance to see the doctors.

Of those who needed to see a doctor, many were prescribed medications, most commonly antibiotics, pain relievers, decongestants and antacids.

For Pharmacy Technician Staff Sgt. Natasha Johnson, this was the first MEDRETE she's worked since arriving here on a deployment from Patrick AFB, Fla.

"This is definitely a life-changing experience to see how other cultures live," she said. "It gives me a greater respect for everything I have. This is one of the best experiences I've had in Honduras. I wanted to come and help out any way I could. If I can spend my holiday helping someone else's health, I definitely would."

Aside from the personal satisfaction of helping people in need, the MEDEL team members gained valuable training from this MEDRETE. By visiting such a remote area, they were able to gain first-hand experience, and they're now better prepared to deploy to other regions of Central America for disaster relief and provide humanitarian assistance.