NEWS | June 5, 2008

Army doctors, nurses get an experience of a lifetime

By Spc. Francis Horton 363rd Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. Army doctors and nurses give all the help they can to local hospital patients in Comayagua, Honduras 

A U.S. Army rotational medical team, supporting Beyond the Horizon,  worked in the Comayagua hospital of Santa Theresa since arrival, said Lt. Col. Steven Romiti, a doctor with the 399th Combat Support Hospital from Pittsburgh. 

The members of the rotational medical team met with doctors working in the local hospital, helped in the hospital emergency room and observed  operating room procedures. Most of the afflictions seen in the ER aren't life threatening issues, Colonel Romiti said. In the few days they have helped out, the doctors have treated mostly dehydration, rashes and the common cold. 

"I've been examining the patients as they come in and treating them," Colonel Romiti said. He was even given clearance to write prescriptions for patients to fill in the hospital pharmacy. 

There have been more serious cases though. A few Hondurans came in with pneumonia, possible tuberculosis and one serious case of Dengue Fever, a viral infection passed by mosquitoes, Colonel Romiti said. The patients with serious afflictions are either admitted to the hospital for further tests or transferred to the main hospital in Tegucigalpa, the capital of the country. 

But the ER isn't the only part of the hospital the American medical team is helping with. Capt. Alicia Waters, a mental health nurse with the 399th CSH, worked as an observer in the OR, watching the Honduran surgical team and helping them in whatever capacity she could. 

"I've been helping with simple things, but the language barrier makes it difficult," Captain Waters said. To help ease the language barrier, the Honduran doctors have been taught her the Spanish words for many of the surgical tools. 

"(Patients in the OR are) mostly cesarean sections and lacerations from machete injuries," Captain Waters said. The OR is also able to perform orthopedic surgeries and appendectomies. The humanitarian mission doesn't stop at a few observations and a helping hand in the ER. 

"After we're finished, we are donating the rest of our medical supplies to the hospital," said Capt. Scott Davenport, an anesthetist nurse with the 399th CSH. The differences in medical procedures between the U.S. and Honduras are vast, Colonel Romiti said. There are few diagnostic tools in the hospital, and sterile gloves are a luxury rarely seen. 

"I have a real appreciation for the doctors here," Colonel Romiti said. "They are working with almost nothing."

Every six months the children of Honduras are treated for worms, and there are medications for colds, flu and rashes here never used in the U.S. 

The hospital is a government run medical facility, said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Paez of the 944th Medical Detachment (Veterinarian) from Round Rock, Texas, an interpreter assigned to the rotational medical detachment. "But many of the patients travel 30 minutes to three hours to get here," Sergeant Paez said.