Escape to El Salvador 2010!
I know this blog update is way overdue and I have so much to write about. As you all know I went to El Salvador on a mission to help back in March 2010. I combined business with pleasure and I went to El Salvador both to visit my family for a baptism but more importantly to help the organization (http://www.flyingdocs.org/) with their free clinics for the low-income families of El Salvador.
I was excited about this trip to say the least! I mean I only begged the person in charge of the trips to El Salvador, “Monte Short” for like 3 years to please take me along to help translate for the medical staff with patients. The date of departure was March 16th, 2010. Most of us flew on our own schedules and we got to choose our own airline of choice. I flew on American Airlines; I wanted to rack up those miles (big smile on my face).
I not only had to plan for the activities surrounding the clinics but I also shipped some boxes of clothing 300 lbs each to be exact via Taca Airlines Cargo services. I'm not going to complain about how the folks in Aduanas El Salvador made me take out every piece of clothing, one by one to get the value. The purpose of this trip was to give and I sure gave, let me tell you! I will say however that I was able to do this thanks to all the folks who donated clothing for my mission. I will name them here because honestly they deserve it. They went out of their way to either bring me clothing, prepare bags of clothing for me to pickup or dropped off clothing to me.
Thank you to the following folks for your contribution and help:
Jesse Sanchez, Sonia Barajas, Blanca Guardado, Cristina Bejar-Gerardo, Donnie Honahnie, Raquel Pardo, Yvonne Hernandez, Nancy Anderson, Maria Ramirez, Donna Rodriguez, Anna Maricella Rodriguez, Mariana Abaunza, Miguel Angel Regalado, Dennis Regalado and Marilyn Bond, my manager at work for allowing the time off to do this special trip but also to Piedad Valencia, my ex-coworker at Nokia for introducing me to the Flying Docs Organization. Had it not been for her, I would never have known about the best organization ever!
A big thanks to my cousin and best Insurance Agent ever, Patricia Sandoval-Ortiz, her family Elvis Ortiz, Savannah Ortiz, Brinna Ortiz and her business Farmers Insurance for their support!
I must also thank my mother Ana Aguirre, brother Michael Borghetti and their Tax Preparation business “Latino Business Center”
located in Hayward because without the extra work and help from them, this all would not have been possible.
A special thanks to my husband Hector Herrera for allowing me to be me!
Thanks to your help and contribution we were able to put clothing on the back of several families and they thanked you from the bottom of their hearts!
The cost of my trip was hefty. Mainly due to the airfare required for my two daughters Anna Maricella Rodriguez, Mariana Abaunza and I. I also donated the required $800 to LMV organization which covered the food, accommodations and any leftover monies are used for purchasing additional medicines and supplies for the clinics. My departure date out of SFO was March 17th, 2010 at midnight because the clinics started on March 18th, 2010. When I arrived I got worried because I accidently missed the courtesy shuttle from the airport to the Roca Sunzal Hotel. I got to eat my first Jocote which is a typical fruit of El Salvador, there and was very happy about it! (http://rocasunzal.com/english/home.htm).
I had to get my cousins to shuttle me over to the hotel costing me an extra $50 bucks but it was all my fault, bummer.
The hotel was beautiful! It was set on the edge of a beautiful beach called Tunco Beach or Playa del Tunco. It is in the department of La Libertad. Sadly that is the area affected by the recent tropical storm “Agatha”, (http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/05/30/salvador.tropical.storm/?hpt=T2) which has devastated this region once again!
Day one was on March 18th, 2010 -The first day we went to a place called “San Pedro Masahuat” which is located in the Department of La Paz, El Salvador. It was about 1 hour away from our hotel. This location by the way was an area hit by the IDA Storm.
We rode on a bus which I kindly will call Big Bertha. When we arrived I was amazed at how many people were there! By the looks of the crowds I would say they had at least 600 people there wanting to get the free medical and dental attention being offered. They had what seemed like several groups collaborating on this occasion as we saw several other clinics and medical care providers that were local to the region. Our group of Los Medicos Voladores was one of the organizations who were there to volunteer their time to attend folks. Our group which our trip coordinator “Monte Short” lovingly baptized as the “El Salvador Dream Team 2010” was made up of the following folks that I know of:
NAME & CAPACITY
Abigail Abrahams, Pre-med Student
Amadeo Ramirez, Dentist
Antonio Hernandez, Medical Doctor and Director of FUDECOM
Arthur Schmauder, Volunteer and Dental Assistant
Ben Cavilla, Medical Doctor and Director/founder of FDOC
Christine Meserve, Pharmacy Manager and Scribe
Holly Nelson, Paramedic/Trip coordinator
Jennifer Stayner, Instructor, Medical Radiologic Technology
Janice Rosner , Nurse Practitioner
John Hartzell aka: Bombero Juan, Volunteer / retired Firefighter
Lisa Abrahams, Registered Nurse
Monte Short, Trip Coordinator
Rick Velez, Paramedic
Risa Procton, Registered Nurse/Translator / Attorney
Rosie Camp, Registered Nurse
Sandra Herrera, Translator aka: Specialist in Salvadorean Slang! Hahah lol!
Simon Boersma, Special Projects Manager
Susan Hartzell, Registered Nurse
Virginia Blankenship, Translator
The above people deserve all of our respect and applause for what they do! They do this voluntarily, yearly sometimes semi-annually or more out of the kindness of their heart. They are the best of humanity in my eyes and I love them all for what they do!
On this day we had some confusion on how the clinics ran. Other clinics thought that medicines would be shared across the entire make shift clinics. That was not the case. In our groups case each doctor was given a brief case with his/her own set of several medicines and that suit case served as their own private clinic. This way the main clinic was centralized and only a re-stocking of the brief case for each doctor as needed was necessary. I must say it worked extremely well. Each doctor had their own station, their own mini-clinic and translator. The patients in this case had to sign up early and names were being called to be attended. We had some excitement because in our group was a radiologist, Jennifer Stayner, who had with her a mobile x-ray machine. It was going to be the first time ever that this organization would be offering this service. Our excitement however turned to dust when the generator over heated the x-ray machine or something like that before it could be used. Oh well we hoped it would work the next day better.
Jennifer wasted no time and jumped into helping out others mode and even turning into our resident children entertainer for the day! The kids absolutely loved her! Watch her in action!
In my particular case, I was paired up with the Physician, Ben Cavilla, Medical Doctor and Director/founder of FDOC. I was one of the few lucky translators because my physician actually knew Spanish to a great extent. However, my knowledge of the occasional El Salvador slang added to the conversation helped for the diagnosis. We saw so many patients that day. I think about 100 to be honest with you. We were there from like 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.
The locals were kind enough to feed us some lunch hosted by them so that was nice. The conditions of these types of free clinics are not a five star commodity. You have to be able to stand going to bathrooms that are not the cleanest and sit in chairs that are not the most comfortable. You are not assigned breaks or a particular lunch hour. You do all this voluntarily as well so you must love what you do and why you do this to do something like this. All in all the first day went great and I heard we did see overall about 600 patients combined with all the other organizations. Despite it all I would not have traded it for the world!
Day two was on March 19th, a Friday. We headed out to Cruz Grande, Izalco, Sonsonate. It was about (45 minutes from Roca Sunzal), our hotel. It was a long, long, long drive but a beautiful one! We drove along the coastline and saw some spectacular views! They did that on purpose to relax us for what was in store for us at the clinic! When we arrived we had about 75 people just sitting outside of the walls of the school which was turned into a makeshift clinic just waiting to welcome us!
It was overwhelming to hear them yell, applaud and welcome us to their town. At this clinic we did not have several organizations only those working with our organization LMV and Fudecom from El Salvador. We had several stations setup for medical, dental, optical, and the X-Ray station which worked this time! Once the X-Ray station got going my doctor assigned to me just kept referring them over. Jennifer Stayner gladly took them on that is until the machine broke down on us half way through the day and for good this time. We were bummed for a minute but the task at hand had to continue. I must say this location was the busiest we handled in my four days with the group.
It was fun to see all the children, which by the way promoted me to the title, Doctor. They would say, “Doctora Sandra” this and “Doctora” that. I was not correcting them either, I was really enjoying it. Then I came back to reality and started correcting them and letting them know the real doctor was next to me. Sorry Ben, big cheesy smile on my face as I write this.
This location was overwhelming in the amount of crowds we had. I mean they had no sitting room but the need for medical attention was so great, that people stood up to eight hours to see a doctor or dentist! I felt so bad for some of the elders and wished I could blink my eyes and wish some chairs to appear for them.
We saw some pretty tough cases at this location. In our particular case I recall a little boy whose mother brought him in because he continuously sweated profusely and was easily tired. It turned out to me he had some sort of heart condition that unfortunately was beyond our means to help. The other case I recall was an elderly gentleman who was extremely thin and fragile. He had a cough that hurt just to watch. Well, my doctor Ben Cavilla diagnoses was possibly some sort of cancer or advanced Tuberculosis. What could we do? Nothing…only instruct him to go to the local free clinic which they refer to Centro Medico and get seen by a local doctor. I wish those patients much luck and pray for them.
We were overbooked on this day and over worked and eventually we had to turn away about 100 or more folks. We saw close to 700 people at this clinic, AMAZING! We got to this location at about 9:00 am and we stayed overtime! We did not leave until about 6:15 pm and the doctors were kind enough to take time to see the local staff of volunteers who handled crowd control, the food service and security throughout the day before we left. Kudos team! Needless to say by the end of day two I started to wonder, my goodness am I cut out for this?! I was so tired and my voice was shot. I had to talk to the patients in Spanish and then turn around and repeat what they said to the doctor in English. This means I was talking all day…
Third day of our adventure was on Saturday March 20th, my youngest daughter’s birthday“Mariana Abaunza. We headed to Marranitos, Zacatecoluca. This location was about (1:15 hour away from Roca Sunzal), our hotel. I had no clue I would not have any phone signal at this location. Eventually what happened which I still feel terrible about is that I did not get to call my daughter to wish her a “Happy Birthday” at least over the phone until late in the day! What a mother I am!
Overall the clinic site was BEAUTIFUL! It was under a bunch of big gigantic Mango trees. They were so full of green mangoes. Made me want to climb the trees, cut some down and eat them!
We had a nice breeze at this location and great shade. What a better doctor’s office then under the shade of a tree. Again we used the mini-pharmacy method as before since this had worked well so far. This location had nice coordination of the event. The one thing about this site that very much stood out was the amount of twins we saw!
I mean what are they eating and drinking over here , ran through my mind. My doctor finally noticed it too and took a picture with a set of twins!
This location had some pretty severe cases as well. We saw one particular child about 6 years old if not younger, which was diagnosed by my doctor Ben with a hole in his heart. You could hear it. I even got to hear it. It was scary and sad. The boy’s mother said he tires easily and sweats profusely all the time. The doctor told her it is because his hear t is working overtime to get the normal job done.
We also saw a gentleman about 30 years old with a really bad severe case of Diabetes but no money for either the bus ride to the free local clinics or the medicines. He was dangerously close to a diabetic shock. It was sad to hear him say he probably would not be able to afford the medical attention required for managing his diabetes which to me tells me, he will most likely die from it, so sad…
We saw a little over 500 patients on this day and then visited a local chicken farm that was setup by the locals and Fudecom in order to teach the locals how to self sustain themselves.
Day four was on Sunday, March 21st. We headed to Caluco, Sonsonate. It was about (45 minutes from Roca Sunzal) our hotel. It was a pretty rural location. The clinic was inside of some sort of old school building. We had a pretty organized group here and so the clinic ran rather smoothly. This clinic was a bit easier than all the rest and I got to work with a local doctor Alex Garcia, who also spoke Spanish. I worked with him as his assistant for a while so that our regular doctor Ben Cavilla could venture out and research our location. He was interested in the possibility of finding additional projects in this area which his organization could help out.
The one case that stood out at this location was a boy with an eye condition that had to be treated much earlier. If both eyes were looking at you one was looking to the side. If you covered one eye the other would straighten up and look straight at you, which is the way it should be. The doctor Ben came up with an idea of patching his eye and training him to wear that eye patch to train his eye to stay in the proper location. Him and Monte worked together to come up with a make shift eye patch. You can see the pictures of the process and the child in the slideshow. We seen a bit over 500 patients at this location overall.
This was the last day for me and the most emotional in the evening. I had to say good bye to the best adventure of my life and to my new family addition, my family at Medicos Voladores!
The fifth day, I did not get to go with the team. They headed off on March 22nd to Tecuma,Izalco, Sonsonate. It was about (45 minutes from Roca Sunzal), our hotel. The team held a (Half Clinic) day. I’m sorry I missed it but I know you all did a great job! I headed out to pick up my youngest daughter Mariana from the airport. She was flying into El Salvador that day. We were about to spend 10 days with our family for a mini-vacation.
What I will remember the most about my time with the Flying Docs team;
I will never forget the beautiful smile and laughter that Abigail & her mom Lisa brought to the bus, sites, hotel, dinner and entire trip but also how they authentically cried as I made my thank you speach on my last day with the team, I love you two for that! I especially will not forget the smiles she put on many of the children's faces as they handed out rag dolls, bracelets & toothbrushes! I can almost hear Arthur singing away the same way he did on day four as he counted pills to make vitamin packets for our pharmacy. He kept his tune and kept correct count too! Ben’s excitement when the x-ray machine finally got working or how hard he worked on a pirate eye patch for a child who did not know the value of that eye patch as much as Ben did and how Ben drank from a cup filled with liquid & dirt and did not complain about it, lol. How Christine ran a tight ship at the main pharmacy but also how sick she felt and no one knew but us her roommates. She was tough and hung in there through it however and for that we thank her! She has a big heart and surprised me when she told me how she does this sort of thing all over the world! She also showed her soft side as she had a bag of hidden goodies for the kiddos! She handed them out slowly & quietly and brought huge smiles to all the children around her! She is amazing to me!
The tenacity with which Jennifer worked to get the x-ray machine working, even if it was for 1 ½ day but also the way she played lovingly with the kids. To us it was all worth it too Jennifer. However, the one thing I will NEVER forget is how she told me that she got caught by a dentist from El Salvador peeing standing up with her "go girl" device and I can only imagine the look on that dentist's face!
Our Janice enjoyed working with the kids but also what a great sense of humor she had & shared that sense of humor with us at the team dinners in the evening! The way Holly surprised the heck out of me when she busted out with her perfect Spanish, she amazed me when I found out her entire family does this sort of work. It was great to know that she inherited that from them and how she continues those customs by volunteering yearly for this! She also seemed to be the go to person at the clinics, thank goodness she had all the answers for us!
The way Rick helped wherever it was needed without thinking about it twice! Thank goodness we had no fires in sight because I now see why he is a Firefighter Paramedic, which is his true calling. He is honestly just a generous and loving guy! Who can forget how Antonio worked feverishly alongside us at every site and what a great host he is! How Risa is a great partner to start up a conversation, great sense of humor and makes for a great tour partner! Thanks for the Tour of the Roca’s new building addition my friend! Who said New York's most interesting citizens are
"the Real Housewives of New York City!"
My favorite New Yorker is Risa!
How Rosie and I had great conversations on the bus rides every morning and I feel like I got to know her family in Hawaii through her. I only wish she would have stuffed me in her bags and took me home with her, Aloha my friend!
How John was baptized “Juan el Bombero” in El Salvador because he is a retired firefighter but also the joy with which he did his job with LMV. He was not even too proud to wear a clown nose to put smiles on the kids faces! Then there was Susan who worked so hard at the clinics to get in as many patients as possible but at least she stayed cool with her trusty little portable fan while the rest of us roasted, lol. She really enjoyed her dinners with the team in the evening, the Margaritas and the conversations! Here’s to you my friend, as I hold up an imaginary Margarita for you! How Virginia amazed me with her perfect Spanish but also her generosity and kindness towards the locals.
Lastly how Simon worked feverishly at every site with our camp setup and tear down. I loved hearing Simon’s amazing stories about his organization and everything he has done in Africa yet here he was our logistics person for our campsites and not one complaint! I recall how Monte seemed to be going in a million directions but still worked as hard as all of us especially when he worked with Ben on that little boys eye patch at one site. I also remember however how our team kept saying the “F” word would start coming out from Monte on about the fifth day when things started to go not so great, lol. However, the one thing that will stay in my mind forever is that meaningful look between Monte & Simon as we all stood around watching the band play with our drinks in hand relaxing after a long hard day at work at the clinics! Guys, too bad I don’t have that picture or you guys would hate me right now! Hahahah lol…
I might have to buy that picture from Jennifer! = )
On a serious note thank you all for taking me along on this trip. Thank you for working with me and allowing me to work with you and for Monte for finally giving me a chance to give back to the place where I was born but only lived at for 2 years of my life. I may have left when I was 2 years old but I took El Salvador in my heart to the USA and there it remains forever…..Thank you all!
During this trip I also had to baptize my new god-son Matias Regalado, which I did the following Saturday March 27th, 2010 and visit family.
I took the clothing to a rural area my mother was born and raised at called Canton Ranchador in Santa Ana, El Salvador. There we hosted a meal at my grandmother’s ranch which is occupied by two very poor families who live rent free on both homes on the land.
We fed the children, broke a piñata for them and gave them all the clothing I had brought through the generous donations of my friends and family!
El Salvador Clothing Giveaway:
We also got to put flowers on my fathers and grandmothers abandoned graves since we all live here in the US. My daughters got to come with me, which made it even more special.
We got to go to the beach as well and I swear they had to drag me out of it!
I just wanted to have my drink and RELAX!
This trip was made possible through the help of many of you and my family. I especially want to thank my husband of almost 13 years, Hector Herrera. Without his love and support to do all these things, my life would not be possible. I love you all for your generous support! Until next years adventure, Adios Amigos…
We were here in El Salvador 2010, but we'll be back! I promise you that!
Don't forget folks, you too can make a difference in this world. If each of us took a moment to just give a little, the world would be a better place that much more! Donate to your favorite organization today or if you would like to donate or participate in mine please visit (http://www.flyingdocs.org)
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~Anne Frank