My first trip to Nicaragua found me in Matagalpa, population around 110,000 residents, built on a hilly terrain surrounded by mountains. With the elevation at 700 meters, the climate was warm during the day with cool evenings. We stayed in a resort with quaint cabins on a coffee plantation surrounded by lush vegetation on rolling hills and virgin cloud forest. Selva Negra Resort, was developed in the mountains above Matagalpa in 1975 by German immigrants who cultivated the outstanding coffee plantation where we called home for our week of surgery.
We arrived at the Hospital Cesar Amador Molina of Matagalpa Saturday morning with our duffel bags on our backs. As we unloaded and settled into our two OR’s, we found there was much activity already about the hospital. This hospital was large and sprawling with patients and families settled into every corner you looked. The hospital was old and run down. Much of the equipment was broken and only semi-functional. However we found enthusiasm from the local staff and hope in the eyes of our patients.
Our General Surgeon, Rene Loyola was the master of laparoscopic cholecystectomy procedures. He performed “lap gallbladder” procedures for patients who had been having gall bladder attacks for years. The result of long term chronic gall bladder disease is difficult access and removal of the gallbladder and very large stones, some the size of large grapes. He also found himself mentoring laparoscopic technique to two of the local surgeons for lap gallbladder surgery. As Rene was mentoring local surgeons, Tony Nazario CST was training a local surgical technologist, Luis Cruz, the role of assisting the surgeons for the procedure. Luis was like a sponge, the desire to learn was great, and the language barrier was only a bump in the road for them.
Major Hector Santiago, CRNA, US Army Reserves, found time in his very busy schedule to get away with us to Nicaragua to provide anesthesia care for our patients. Being the mother of a man who served in the military it was such an honor to work beside a man who provides medical care for our wounded men and women overseas. Being bilingual gave him a great advantage in providing comfort and understanding to our patients.
Dr. Donato Viggiano, Plastic Surgery, found himself providing some repair surgery for a patient with gangrenous tissue, release of contractures, removal of extensive skin cancer and skin grafting for the repair. His work is meticulous and the results are easily read on the faces of his patients.
The line for the dental clinic had formed each day long before Dr. Rene Aviles and his assistant Beth Compitello would arrive. As you know, most of us would rather eat worms than go see the dentist, but these local Hondurans had no one to care for their teeth, they had cavities, needed cleaning, or simply needed teeth to be pulled out by this time. One little girl, about 12 years old, had come to see him with her mother. She was crying, was frightened, and was probably thinking about those worms. He talked to her for quite a while, gave reassurance, then convinced her to allow him to numb one side of her mouth and fill the bigger cavities there. He thought that was all he would be able to get to on this trip with the lines out the door. She did well with that. The next day she and her mother sat in line for the other side. She was more trusting now and allowed him to do the other side, without anesthetic. The third day he found her sitting in his chair again, he asked what can I do for you. She replied, “You missed one”, and he repaired it as well.
Compassion and listening can go a long way, whether you are in America or in Honduras. Our mission is to bring God’s light into the darkness, it comes in many forms, and I know in my heart, that we made a difference for many in Matagalpa Nicaragua that warm week in November. God Bless You for your support.