Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Physicians of the Caribbean

Volunteers are Pure Gold in Honduras 

Img37.pngTwo doctors sit in a medical office across from Community Memorial Hospital poring through snapshots of a recent visit to a clinic in Honduras.  Each photo elicits a smile.  Some bring laughter.

“Remember that day?” asks Dr. David Perlmutter, a semi-retired family practitioner.  As he points to a photo of a long line of villagers, Dr. Fran Larsen, a family practitioner, recalls, “I think we saw 60 people that day.”

On a typical day, Dr. Larsen and Dr. Perlmutter are providing care to their Ventura patients, but much of their free time is dedicated to helping the efforts of a free clinic in a remote island village in Honduras.

The Glendafae Woods Humanitarian Clinic on Roatan Island, Honduras opened in the fall of 2002.  The brainchild of a registered nurse born and raised there, the clinic brings healthcare services to a small economically depressed island town off the Honduran coast, just miles from a wealthy West End tourist locale.  With a population of 30,000 people, Coxen Hole and the surrounding areas are home to half of Roatan Island’s total population.  Glendafae watched as her community, made up of approximately 50% Hispanic and 50% black, succumbed to the ravages of hypertension and diabetes.  Determined to open a free clinic, Glendafae leveraged credit cards and personal savings to build a clinic and a small 5-bedroom facility to house visiting doctors on her family’s land.

Without treatment, there is a high mortality rate among those with hypertension and diabetes.  “With treatment, you can improve lives,” remarks Dr. Larsen, who first visited the island with a plastic surgeon five years ago.  He found the island beautiful and decided to stay on for a brief vacation.  Since then, he has returned to Roatan with a team of doctors, a translator and a dentist once or twice a year for a week or two at a time to volunteer at the clinic.

While there, they work side-by-side with the clinic’s Honduran doctor and Glendafae herself, who serves as the clinic’s nurse.  Since there is no bus service to the more remote parts of the island, the doctors will take the clinic on the road and set-up for a day in someone’s house, where as many as 60 people will be waiting to see them.

The clinic also serves as a pharmacy, with a full supply of donated medications administered free to patients who agree to adhere to routine monitoring.  Dr. Larsen, in cooperation with Community Memorial Hospital, purchases medications here and then gets them to the clinic.  Organizations such as Direct Relief International and pharmaceutical companies such as Schering Plough, also provide assistance. 

To ensure the clinic continues to actively operate on a full-time basis year-round, other volunteer teams visit the clinic.  Coordinating the teams isn’t easy, but according to Dr. Perlmutter, who has given much of his last 30 years to third world medicine, “Word of mouth gets around pretty rapidly,” and keeps the doctors coming year after year.
“It’s so rewarding,” says Dr. Larsen.

This article was written for Caring Magazine, a publication of Community Memorial Health Systems.