Medical team provides needed care to Hondurans
By Senior Airman Shaun Emery, Joint Task Force-Bravo public affairs
/ Published June 21, 2007
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- A medical team 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 medical readiness training exercise June 12-21.
The team of medical professionals, specializing in ear, nose and throat surgery spent two weeks at Hospital Esquela in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, performing 37 surgeries and distributing more than 50 hearing aids.
This is the third year that a medical team from Lackland has traveled to Honduras to provide care to the local population. According to mission commander Maj. Cecelia Schmalbach, it's a unique experience every time.
"For the first time we worked side by side in the operating room with the Honduran residents," said Major Schmalbach. "It was a total team effort across the board."
Hospital Escuela, a teaching hospital located in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, offers free medical care. Because so many trauma cases come through the hospital doors, sometimes ear, nose and throat surgeries receive a lower priority, said Dr. Guillermo Saenz, Joint Task Force-Bravo Honduran medical officer.
"They also must deal with limited experience in ENT surgeries and the lack of necessary equipment to conduct these procedures," said Dr. Saenz.
Efraien, a Hospital Escuela resident doctor, said the experience gained with the arrival of the Americans will help him provide to future patients.
"I'm learning a lot from the American soldiers," said Efraien. "I enjoy working beside them. I really like to learn."
In addition to providing much needed medical care, members of the medical team are also put to the test to see if they can sustain the surgical mission for two weeks. All the equipment the team uses is transported from Lackand AFB. If anything gets left behind or breaks, there are no replacements.
"These missions teach us practical deployment skills," said Master Sgt. Ricardo Santa Cruz, the team's non-commissioned officer-in-charge. "Unfortunately the Honduran doctors don't always have the tools and equipment they need. We have to adapt and use creative thinking to ensure our patients receive the best treatment possible."
As the last patient is bandaged up and the team is done for the day, Major Schmalbach says she wishes the team could do more.
"The patients tell us how grateful they are," she said. "It's an incredible experience."
Not only did the time spent at Hospital Escuela ensure the members of the ENT team will be ready to deploy when called upon, it also gave them a chance reach out and take care of patients in need of care.