NEWS | June 24, 2009

Medical exercise in Poptun treats residents most in need of care

By Tech. Sgt. Michael Hammond Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A chance encounter saved Theresa Luna more than two-thirds of her monthly income.

When Ms. Luna, a 38-year-old single mother of three, ran into her sister the evening of June 23, she learned there were U.S. doctors and nurses in her small town of Poptun, Guatemala, providing free medical care.

She got up this morning and walked across town with her three children: Kelly Barrera, 10; Erwin Barrera, 8; and Carla Barrera, 5, all suffering from minor ailments ranging from ear pain to skin infections and a rash. It had been at least four years since anyone in her family had seen a doctor. In her lifetime, she had never encountered people from the United States.

But this experience is one she will not soon forget. Ms. Luna works as a cleaner and earns about 800 Quetzales per month - the rough equivalent of $100 in U.S. currency.

"If I didn't know about this and bring my children here, I would have first tried over the counter medicine to treat their problems," Ms. Luna said. "If that didn't work, I would have had to take them to the hospital. That would have cost a minimum of 500 (Quetzales), not including the cost of medicine."

"I'm just very happy that you're here," she added.

Hearing Ms. Luna's story had an impact on the physician's assistant who treated her as well.

"I was amazed that a family would have to pay almost an entire month's salary just to get basic medical care," said Air Force Capt. William E. Shaw, who deployed to Joint Task Force-Bravo, based at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, six months ago from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.

"It gives me a sense of personal fulfillment to be able to provide them with care."

The opportunity provided to Ms. Luna's family is being offered as part of a five-day combined medical readiness and training exercise led by 23 representatives of JTF-Bravo. The team coordinated with the Guatemala Military Group, Ministry of Health, and Army to arrange the treatment. In just the first two days of the exercise, medics have seen, evaluated, and treated more than 900 men, women and children.

JTF-Bravo regularly conducts such exercises throughout Central America, offering medical treatment to those who need it most - those with limited or no regular access to care.

These five days in Poptun are part of a larger effort to promote prosperity, stability and security in the region. But for people like Ms. Luna, the results are more immediate and concrete - her children feel better and she can spend her hard-earned money on food and supplies.