St. Andrews team returns from Honduras mission

While friends and family at home recently “enjoyed” snow and record-breaking cold temperatures, 23 volunteers from 10 states and one Canadian province gathered in Southern Honduras in 90+ degree heat for the 14th annual medical mission trip of the Key Humanitarian Initiative for Southern Honduras (KHISH/US).

It was also the eighth year that the “brigade” has included eye services. Grace Covenant (Richmond) members Brian Baird, Cameron Baird, Walter Bundy, Ron David, Marcia Manning and Susan Pillsbury David participated this year, along with St. Andrews (Kilmarnock) members Linda Parks and Ava Wolfram. The Davids and Dr. Bundy are frequent attendees at St. Andrews when at their river homes, reported Susan Pillsbury David.

Two teams shared meals and accommodations in Nacaome, Valle, Honduras. This department (or state) is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere’s second most impoverished country, said David. It is known to its country’s residents as the hottest region, and also as “where the poor people live.”

Inhabitants of Valle have only subsistence farming and seasonal farm work as their sources of income, she said. Intense sunlight and vitamin deficiency have resulted in an extraordinary rate of cataracts, seen decades younger than our ophthalmology and optometry volunteers are used to seeing at home.

Malnutrition and hard living conditions also take their toll in other ways, from infants to the elderly, continued David. Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and epilepsy are treated only episodically, if at all, due to lack of access to medical care and the high cost of medications.

The “Eye Team” included five ophthalmologists (four American and one Honduran), two optometrists, two operating room technicians and a nurse, supported by a full team from the eye center of the Centro Cristiano de Servicios Humanitario de Honduras from El Progreso. Their base of operations was the region’s public hospital in San Lorenzo, which also provided volunteers to assist in the brigade. By the end of five days, the brigade had screened a total of 1,631 people. Two hundred eye surgeries were performed, of which 142 were sight-restoring cataract operations. An additional 56 were removal of aggressive lesions on the surface of the eye called “pterygia.” Thirteen laser procedures also were performed. The optometrists dispensed 552 pair of reading glasses and 238 pair of sunglasses.

The “Medical/Dental Team” was 12 in number, three “newbies” and nine volunteers joining the team for repeat tours of duty. In four clinic days in villages that took up to 90 minutes on mostly river-bed dirt roads to access, they did 705 medical and dental exams, with extractions of painfully decayed teeth at the rate of 30 to 40 per day. Medications were dispensed for acute and chronic medical conditions.

Dr. Adolfo Moreno will continue to follow villagers for diabetes, hypertension epilepsy, and other chronic medical conditions every four months until the next brigade in 2019.

Eye exams were also done in the villages, and an additional 480 pair of sunglasses were dispensed for cataract prevention.

KHISH is supported by the participation fees of its volunteers, by donations from individuals and Grace Covenant, St. Andrews Presbyterian in Kilmarnock, First Presbyterian in Port Jefferson, N.Y., Grace Episcopal in Kilmarnock and Immanuel Episcopal in Old Church.

Volunteers take time away from work and school to participate and they travel at their own expense. All the services provided by the brigade, including four month supplies of medicines for chronic disorders, are given at no cost to recipients.

The next brigade has been scheduled for January 2 through 9, 2019.