Sixteen medical missions have changed many lives in Honduras
Way back in 1998, Dwain and Georgia West of Pineville decided to assist Abbeville’s St. Paul’s Episcopal priest, the Rev. Keith Milligan and Lafayette’s St. Barnabas’ Deacon Don Leger (now of Opelousas) to organize a medical mission in and around Trinidad, Honduras.
Since then, Trinidad, a rural mountain town, along with many surrounding villages, has been the epicenter for an effort, spearheaded by the Wests, called ACTS Honduras.
Dwain was familiar with Honduras, having served on military assignments in Central America. Honduran friends helped him identify a village that had progressive leadership and would be a good partner for the work that the Wests and others envisioned.
In 1998, bad timing and horrific weather nearly derailed the first and all future efforts when during their first medical mission, Hurricane Mitch came ashore from the Atlantic and hovered five days over Honduras. After more than 100 inches of rain, Mitch headed to the Pacific. Three days later, it turned around and came back, dumping even more rain. The Wests were stuck in the middle of an incredible disaster.
Georgia says that when they finally made it back to the San Pedro Sula, the airport was under water. She uttered what she calls The Skier’s Prayer — “God, if you just get me out of here, I promise I’ll never come back.”
And with that prayer, Georgia is convinced she heard God laugh.
She revised her prayer to, “God, if you get me out of here, I’ll keep coming back until you tell me to stop.”
In the years since, the couple has organized 16 medical mission trips. But the help they’ve coordinated has not been limited to dispensing medicine for parasites, scabies, allergies and infections. Instead, they’ve uncovered a multitude of problems and done their best to create solutions. For example, when they first started coming to Trinidad, the town had one electrical transformer. As they gathered various medical equipment for the small medical clinic, it began to have electrical issues and burned several times. So, they worked with CLECO in Pineville and SWEPCO in Shreveport and brought and installed two additional electrical transformers for the town.
“There’s one at the clinic and one at the city water system, which has allowed the town to have water 24 hours a day — before they had it sporadically,” Georgia said.
When the local high school burned, the town elders sent ACTS Honduras a list of needed supplies, and with the help of people across Western Louisiana, they gathered most of what they needed and shipped it to Honduras.
These days, the Wests work to organize a once-a-year mission. Dr. Scott Hamilton of Lafayette, two nurse practitioners from Cincinnati and local Honduran doctors and volunteers worked at four medical clinics Jan. 10-14. Other Louisiana volunteers included Aurore Hamilton, Johnny Sirmon and Jan Risher of Lafayette, and Wayne Syron of Lake Arthur, Maureen Boisvert, Suzanne Long and Cyndi Minton of Pineville.
All volunteers pay their own way, volunteer their time and stay in a small local boarding house with varying degrees of amenities — the few and lucky get hot water, the rest learn to appreciate refreshing cold showers.
The American volunteers work alongside Honduran volunteers who help coordinate local logistics for the clinics and assist in translating.
Hamilton has made the trip to Honduras to volunteer in the medical mission 12 times. Each year, he has brought a family member.
As Dr. Hamilton sees patients alongside two nurse practitioners from Cincinnati and a volunteer local doctor, Aurore assists in the eye clinic, managed by Suzanne Long, of Pineville. This year’s eye clinic saw 256 patients and dispensed reading glasses and prescription glasses, donated by the Lions Club.
“It’s fun,” Hamilton said. “It’s also something I felt God always wanted me to do. My father was a Presbyterian minister and seminary professor. My grandfather was also a Presbyterian minister. I was born in Jerusalem, so my grandfather thought I was the anointed one. The last thing my grandfather said to me in private was that it’s OK for me to be a doctor if I became a medical missionary — so I do this.”
Hamilton said the other perks, including eating wonderful food, traveling and practicing his Spanish, are also a bonus. Plus, he gets to see “scads and scads of patients — many more than I do in the States. There’s no paperwork. No mal-practice,” he said.
During the first four days of the medical clinic in and around Trinidad, Hamilton and the rest of the volunteers saw nearly 700 patients — grateful people ready and willing to walk two hours down one mountain and up another to have the chance to see a doctor and get some vitamins and medicine for a variety of ailments.
Most of clinic visits are routine. Almost all of the patients have intestinal parasites because they only have access to unpurified water. Additionally, a high percentage of them have asthma. With rare exception, they live in mud huts and do their cooking over a small wood oven and griddle. Hamilton and the other volunteers realize providing a cure for all of the ailments they see isn’t possible, but last year they also believe they witnessed a miracle.
“Yes, that was a miracle,” Hamilton said. “If I’m ever going to see a miracle in my life. That was probably it.”
Last year, at the end of one of the days of medical clinic in the mountains, a mother brought her blind daughter to see if anyone could help her.
“It was the end of the day, I was exhausted,” Hamilton said. “I looked at her and knew that this little girl would be blind for life. On a whim, I said something about the possibility of her going to the capital city to see a specialist in congenital glaucoma.”
Hamilton said he didn’t anticipate how seriously the other volunteers would take his suggestion.
“Georgia and Dwain took that to heart and got the little girl to the hospital in San Pedro Sula. The eye specialist there said there was a 20 percent chance we could save her sight through surgeries and eye drops, but it would cost money,” he said. “So the Wests, the other volunteers and I got on the phones back to the States and by the end of the night, we had enough money for the little girl to have the surgery.”
And, against all odds, the drops and the procedures worked. On Jan. 11, Hamilton had the chance to see the little girl and take a look at her eyes again. And for the first time, she also took a look at him.