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Last Friday we visited the community of 8 de Diciembre for a seminar on various topics regarding preventative health care, as well as to hand out the Pap smear results for patients who attended a previous Mobile Clinic. The turnout was a lot bigger than we expected, showing us that this community is eager to learn about preventative measures they can take to help protect themselves and their families. From the moment we arrived we saw a very organized community; they had taken the time to rearrange the room to be able to accomodate all participants.
Biz Shenk, one of our MEDLIFE interns, gave a short presentation about mental health, which the community appreciated enormously. Several residents had questions regarding psychological health, but felt ashamed to ask them publicly; for this reason, MEDLIFE is trying to organize visits so that community members can meet one-on-one with psychologists. Two representatives from Manuela Ramos, an NGO that works to secure women's rights, also helped MEDLIFE Field Nurse Meri Lecaros present information about sexual and women's health. Among the topics addressed were how to recognize and prevent STDs, how to prevent cervical cancer, and how to do a quick breast exam to check for breast cancer.
Although participants listened with interest to all of the topics, the one that seemed to interest them the most was malnutrition. Almost every mother in the room was asking for advice; they all wanted to give the best possible nutrition to their children. At the end of the seminar everyone was satisﬁed with the answers given to their questions, and conﬁdent that the information received was not just for them to keep, but to also be shared with others. This group's interest was so strong that they even asked for more meetings, and MEDLIFE plans to continue returning to the zone to provide information on additional health topics.
Inge is a Communications Intern based out of Lima, Peru
This week, the MEDLIFE team completed our first staircase project in 12 de Junio, a community located right next to Laders de Nueva Esperanza, where we have already completed six staircase projects.
This particular project was organized for one of the community's residents, Carmen Solano, who is also a MEDLIFE follow-up patient battling breast cancer. Since 2011, MEDLIFE has been helping Carmen receive treatment for her illness, as well as helping to support her family while she is unable to work. Carmen has always shown incredible positivity in the face of her disease.
At the end of the week, two of the hardest-working students were asked to break the ceremonial bottle of champagne alongside Carmen, as part of the inauguration of the staircase. After a loud round of applause for the student volunteers, the students asked for an even louder one for the community.
"I will continue to fight against this disease, with more strength and without giving up," said Carmen. "Thank you for this beautiful gesture."
Read more and see more photos here.
Dr. Jose Luis Rodriguez joined MEDLIFE in 2010 as a general practitioner. He has always demonstrated a keen aptitude for patient care; just a few months after starting with MEDLIFE he began implementing new medical and educational programs for our Mobile Clinics. Now doctor Jose serves full times as our Medical Director, and is in charge of the supervision of all medical aspects of MEDLIFE´s operations. Learn more about Dr. Jose below:
Where are you from?
I am from Lima. I was born in Lima, but my father is from Trujillo and my mother is from the border between Chile and Peru.
How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?
Three years ago a colleague and friend named Iliana Rodriguez, who used to work here, called and asked me to fill in for an absent doctor on one of MEDLIFE's Mobile Clinics. So I agreed to help. This was in December, about three years ago. I came to the clinic and ended up helping for all ﬁve days and loved the experience; luckily, they invited me to come back for the next clinic. I was working as part of the Mobile Clinics for about two months when i ﬁrst met MEDLIFE Director Nick Ellis, and he asked me if I wanted to work in a more permanent way, as a coordinator. I agreed and have been working here permanently since then. And that is how I got into MEDLIFE.
What do you like about working here?
First of all, as a doctor you have the call or duty to serve the community. Sometimes, our jobs don't allow us to help as much as we would like to, but in the Mobile Clinics you can really see how the patients are so grateful. Those kind of experiences make me feel that what I have learned is really useful, and that is very fulﬁlling.
Talking about good experiences, I also enjoy working with the volunteers. The students have their own personalities and they come full of excitement, wanting to help and to learn at the same time. I like watching them interacting with the patients, and I get the sense that they also appreciate the way that I work. Since the feeling is mutual, we generally make a good team.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love dancing! That is definitely one of my favorite things to do. I also love soccer, and that's because I'm 100% a sports person.
Could you name some of the patients who made or make an impression on you?
There is one lady who comes from the sierra and lives in the community of Oasis here in Lima. The ﬁrst time she saw me was the ﬁrst time she ever saw a doctor; she hadn't been treated by a doctor in her entire life until that day. At the Mobile Clinic she was measured and weighed by a nurse; she then saw a dentist and general practitioner. She was very moved by the kindness we showed her and said she felt treated more like family than like a patient. She was so moved and grateful that she started crying, and I was thinking to myself, that i never understood how much we were really doing for our patients. That was a very emotional day.
We just recieved these photos from Ccaccaccollo, a community outside Cusco, Peru, where we constructed new bathroom facilities starting in August. The community has been putting the finishing touches on the project, and school director Maria Teresa Flores tells us, "The bathrooms look great, and the kids and I are very grateful to MEDLIFE for completing this project."
Today we have some good news to share from Lima: after finally getting heart surgery on December 14th, Eloy Britto is back home with his family and on track to a full recovery.
Eloy is a quiet eight-year old boy who was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect that causes low oxygen levels in the blood. Symptoms include blue skin color, poor development, and episodes of exhaustion and seizure. In most cases, children with Tetralogy of Fallot undergo heart surgery at a very young age and can go on to live normal lives. Without the surgery, most patients with the condition will die before they reach the age of 20.
Until a year ago, Eloy's family lived in Pucallpa, in the jungle region of Peru, isolated from any sophisticated medical care. His mother, Betsy, says she knew that he had a problem from an early age and tired easily, especially in the jungle heat. She describes how Eloy, who loves to play soccer, could only take a few steps, kick the ball, and had to sit down and rest. Last year, Betsy came with Eloy and his younger siblings to stay with a relative in the community of Virgen de Cocharcas in Lima. He was doing well in school, but he stopped going in the second grade after he fainted at school one day.
MEDLIFE has been following his case since last summer, taking him to various doctors' appointments and tests to determine if he could receive the operation that would save his life. Cardiologists expressed concern that Eloy could be too old for the operation; as his heart grew, his system had become accustomed to working the wrong way. But Meri Lecaros, MEDLIFE's field nurse, was determined to find a way to help him. In the meantime, we worked to improve his living conditions, including building a staircase next to his house.
In November, Eloy went to the hospital for a checkup, and seeing his condition had worsened, the doctors checked him in for an extended stay. They would try to help him gain weight until he was healthy and strong enough for an operation. Having never been to the hospital before, he was resistant to medical intervention; Meri recalls with amazement how it took several nurses just to hold him down for an injection. But he began to improve, and when we visited him there, the MEDLIFE staff was surprised to see how well he was doing. He was in a room with other kids around his age, and happily played and shared toys with them, smiling and talking more than we had ever seen him do before.
Meri found out about a program coming to the children's hospital in Lima -- a group of surgeons arriving from Spain to perform specialized operations only on the most serious and difficult cases. They would be in town for just one week, and there was a long waiting list. At this hospital, the patients' family has to secure the necessary amount and type of donated blood before the child can be placed on the schedule to receive an operation. We frantically searched for O-positive blood donors; in the end, one of our own interns, Inge, donated blood. Meri managed to intercept the doctors as they made their rounds and get their assurance that Eloy would get his operation before the week was over.
When Friday came, we watched as Eloy entered pre-op around 9:00 in the morning, and waited until he came out about eight hours later. The surgeons told us from the beginning that this surgery would be a complicated and risky one; it required cutting open Eloy's heart to place patches and widen a vessel to reroute the blood. Any miscalculation could mean cutting an artery and stopping the heart.
The operation went as expected, doctors told us, but Eloy was losing a great deal of blood and would be in great danger for the next five days. Meri was in the hospital almost every day during this time. At one point, Eloy had a heart attack and his system shut down completely.
"He was dead," says Meri. "We thought that was it, and just when they were disconnecting the machines, he took a breath by himself."
In spite of these scary moments, as he continued to recuperate, the difference was clear; post-surgery, Eloy's skin no longer had the blue tint, and he could walk around the halls of the hospital without getting tired. When Betsy arrived to take him home from the hospital after his two-month stay, she says he was waiting for him in the doorway with his toys and impatiently told her, "Let's go home now!"
Eloy's health is still delicate, and he needs a safe environment to ensure that he can continue to improve. But he seems to have made it through the worst of the danger now -- he's eating, talking and happy to be home playing with his younger sister and brother.
MEDLIFE will continue to support Eloy and his family through the recovery process.
In today’s issue of El Comercio, Peru’s main daily newspaper, this headline caught my eye. It reads, “Only 39.6% of the budget allocated to healthcare was used in 2012.” Though it doesn’t have the answers, the article may provide some insight into one of the questions students always ask when they first see the communities where Mobile Clinics take place.
This week's Mobile Clinic in Lima is one of our biggest to date, with almost 100 volunteers from schools all over the United States. That means we can serve twice as many people with double Mobile Clinics and community development projects! The project this week is two more staircases in Laderas Nueva Esperanza, and as the student volunteers learned yesterday, building a staircase in a week is not easy.
This week's Mobile Clinic, made up of students from Florida International University, got off to an early start Sunday with a special holiday event in Unión Santa Fe. As you may know, Unión Santa Fe is an asentamiento humano (settlement) in Pamplona where MEDLIFE has been working for the past few years. MEDLIFE has aided Unión Santa Fe by bringing Mobile Clinics and completing staircase projects; we're also currently in the process of constructing a new day care center and water system. Over the course of many visits, we've gotten to know the kids of Unión Santa Fe and the surrounding communities. We wanted to do something to make their Christmas special, and what better time than with the arrival of 25 MEDLIFE student volunteers?
Chocolatadas are a holiday tradition in Peru where families get together, often with hot chocolate and panetón (fruitcake), and the children receive gifts. For poor communities, these events take on a special significance, since they often provide one of the few or only occasions all year where children receive toys. This week, we teamed up with the local Rotary club, who held a toy drive, and distributed presents to about 300 children in the region.
The students arrived to the muddy soccer field in Unión Santa Fe on a morning covered in typical Lima fog. Despite the gloomy weather, the kids there were thrilled to see them and immediately started playing both American and Peruvian games together. The bus carrying all the presents broke down on the way, but luckily the students managed to distract the children while they waited.
Even with the unexpected setbacks, the chocolatada was a successful start as our student volunteers prepare to jump in to a week of nonstop Mobile Clinics. And the kids' smiles as they opened their presents were the ultimate reward.
This holiday season, you can help us help communities like this one by donating to the MEDLIFE Fund!
Remember the story of Gisela Neyra, the young woman from Pamplona who came to us for help with her hearing loss? MEDLIFE helped Gisela with various tests and doctors' appointments, but her hearing impairment was getting progressively worse, to the point that she lost her job and was struggling to keep up in pharmacy school. The only solution was to get hearing aids that cost thousands of dollars, which she could not afford. But a surprise gift from a MEDLIFE intern, Noemie Baudry, turned out to be just what she needed.
With her new hearing aids, Gisela was able to finish school, and this week she's joining MEDLIFE staff members to help out in the pharmacy station at our first Mobile Clinic of the season! "I'm very happy to be here, because for as long as I've known MEDLIFE, it's been an organization that helps people in need," she told us. "And just as MEDLIFE helped me, now I can lend a hand myself."
Practical experience in the pharmacy field is one of the requirements to finish her degree, and Gisela says she always had the idea of volunteering with MEDLIFE in mind. "I was just waiting to finish my studies so that I could help out," she says.
Gisela tears up as she thinks back on the events of six months ago, when she first came into contact with MEDLIFE. "I knew my hearing was getting worse fast. I was studying but I couldn't hear anymore; I listened, but I couldn't understand." She tried going to several different doctors, but they couldn't help her, and the expense of the doctors' appointments became too much for her to bear. Back then, her dream of finishing school and having a career seemed far off. With scant economic resources, she's had to struggle to achieve her goals, little by little. Along the way, MEDLIFE became like a second family for her, and she says she's proud to be a part of an organization that is doing so much good in her community.
This week, she's working together with MEDLIFE staff and student volunteers from California to dispense medications prescribed by doctors at the Mobile Clinic. "I feel like my dreams are coming true," she says.
We are slowly but surely making progress on our very first Wawa Wasi daycare center in Lima, Peru, thanks to the help of MEDLIFE chapters and supporters around the world! So far, the project is about 30% complete, but the environmental hazards of the area make this project a complicated one.
Working together, community members have dug 7 meters deep at the project site in order to reach solid ground and give the Wawa Wasi a safe foundation. They've also installed an iron framework in order to keep the ground from sliding and bringing down nearby houses with it. Rainy conditions this time of year can mean delays in construction, when it's not safe to traverse the muddy hills.
As planned in previous meetings between MEDLIFE and community leaders, local residents are doing their part by providing manual labor free of charge. Because they work during the week, these men and women take time each weekend to organize work days devoted to building the Wawa Wasi for their children. A portion of the funds raised for the Wawa Wasi will go to safety gear like helmets, glasses and gloves, so that they can continue to work without fear of injury.
The Wawa Wasi will be fully equipped to serve about 30 preschool-age children, with sanitary bathrooms, a classroom, and a nap area. It will provide a safe place for parents to leave their children while they work during the day, and create jobs for local women. Once construction is complete, the Wawa Wasi will operate in accordance with a program created by UNICEF and the Peruvian government, with a curriculum that includes important basic hygiene and nutrition education for both children and their families.
Your donations to the MEDLIFE Project Fund will help us obtain the materials we need to finish the Wawa Wasi! Stay tuned for updates about both the Wawa Wasi and MEDLIFE's potable water project happening now in Unión Santa Fé.