ALTO DE CARONA, Costa Rica –
A Panamanian woman crosses the border into Costa Rica on a narrow strip of mountainous terrain, known as Punta Burica, that juts into the Pacific Ocean. She traverses a makeshift swing bridge, and after a nearly two-hour journey on foot, she changes out of her traveling clothes into her nicest outfit, a hand-sewn purple dress zigzagged with yellow and blue thread.
Here, it is important to look your best when you go to see a doctor. Today is a special occasion, as she and her family will receive medical care for the first time in nearly two years.
She arrives in the small indigenous "Ngobe" village, population 160, just as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, touches down between two wooden goal posts in the village's soccer field.
The doors of the helicopter open and uniformed servicemembers from JTF-Bravo exit carrying medical supplies and equipment for the three-day medical readiness training exercise Sept. 25-27.
The visit of this JTF-Bravo Blackhawk and its passengers is what the village's leader, Kanaki Carrera, calls "a dream come true."
Because there are no roads leading to the three remote villages in the area, receiving medical, dental and preventive medicine from JTF-Bravo and the Costa Rican Social Security Health Services here during this exercise is "truly a prize," Mr. Carrera says.
He explains many of the people in the area have not seen a doctor for several years and the journey to the nearest Costa Rican hospital is two days through treacherous terrain littered with poisonous snakes.
"Unfortunately, the conditions of the journey make it impossible for many people to see a doctor ... and they die trying," he says. "We are very thankful for the support of (JTF-Bravo) to this humble community. It is something very kind."
With the help of partner Costa Rican health professionals, 10 members from JTF-Bravo's Medical Element saw nearly 600 patients during three days at this site and at La Pena, another remote village about eight miles from here.
"This is a very isolated village; seeing one patient here carries the weight of seeing 10 patients at the nearest hospital," says Dr. Wilmer Amador, liaison officer for JTF-Bravo's Medical Element, who is here on his third MEDRETE in Costa Rica in nine years. "We are helping a population that is very hard to reach and very underserved.
"I am very pleased with the quality of service we and the Costa Rican Social Security Health Services Administration are providing," he says. "The number of the patients we see is not important; it's the impact of the service we bring that is important."
For four local women, the benefits of the MEDRETE are immediate and once-in-a-lifetime, Dr. Amador says.
He explains one woman would have lost a finger without the transport of the Costa Rica police's helicopter to the hospital in Golfito; three pregnant women in need of specialized care were also transported to the hospital via Blackhawk.
For 24-year-old father of two infants, Jose Rodriguez, the visit of JTF-Bravo medical personnel to his village is a blessing he has been praying for.
"I thank God for this help," Mr. Rodriquez says. "I hope these medicines and vitamins will help me feel better and my children will feel good and live a better life because of this."