NEWS | Aug. 26, 2008

Virginia medical professionals volunteer with JTF-Bravo in La Mosquitia

By Staff Sgt. Joel Mease Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Three medical specialists from Virginia volunteered to work with Joint Task Force-Bravo during a medical readiness exercise Aug. 18-20 to assist villages in the La Mosquitia region.

The Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade is a volunteer group that offers medical services to Honduras. The group makes seven trips a year, and made this their second trip with JTF-Bravo, said Dr. Barry Byer from Falls Church, Va.

The group learned about the MEDREDE from the JTF-Bravo Medical Element and offered their services. The MEDEL leadership was specifically interested in their eye care capabilities, Dr. Byer said.

"We believed we had something to offer MEDEL with our eye services," he said. "We believe we are pretty good at what we do, and we wanted to be able to enhance what (MEDEL) does on their MEDRETEs."
This is the group's ninth year of coming to Honduras. Last November the group was able to prescribe and give out more than 2,400 eye glasses.

The gift of sight can be just as important as good health, so it is important to the brigade to help those in Honduras when this may be their only opportunity. During the exercise the brigade was able to meet a man who literally believed in that, Dr. Byer said.

"At the beginning of the day we met Nelson, a 92-year-old trilingual man who had advanced cataracts. Because of how bad his eye condition was there was little we could do to help him," Dr. Byer said. "However that didn't stop him for wanting to help us he volunteered to translate for us the entire day as most in the La Mosquitia did not speak Spanish. There is no doubt in my mind if he hadn't helped translate we wouldn't have been able to see as many people as we did."

The support Nelson was willing to provide as a blind man to the eye-care team spoke volumes of how much the people in La Mosquitia appreciated what the team provided, he said.

"I think he knew this might be the only shot the people in his village would get at these services," Dr. Byer said. "So while we couldn't help him with his problem, he was able to help us with the power of language."

The exercise was also an opportunity for the three members of the brigade to take away lessons learned for their group's larger visit in the fall when more than 80 members come to Honduras, said Dr. Cindy Elkyn.

"What I was really impressed with was how (MEDEL) focuses on preventive medicine," Dr. Elkyn said. "It's an area we can stress on our trips to Honduras in the future."

The brigade hopes to continue their working relationship with JTF-Bravo.

"I think we both have something to offer each other," Dr. Byer said. "It's appealing to our group to be able to help those with little or no access to healthcare, and the MEDRETEs are a great opportunity to be a part of."