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Providers Hone Skills During Medical Readiness Training Exercise In Honduras

08/11/2017

By Mark Oswell

WRNMMC Command Communications

Standing in an austere examining room in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Dr. Georgina Blasco, a clinical audiologist from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center knew this was where she belonged.

A native of San Juan, Argentina and fluent in Spanish, she was an obvious choice to lead the audiology team of this Medical Readiness Training Exercise to Honduras. “I love going, and it makes sense for me to go,” furthered Blasco.
 
This was the third MEDRETE for the WRNMMC audiologist to the Hospital Leonardo Martinez. Working alongside ears, nose and  throat (ENT) providers and anesthesiologists from WRNMMC, Blasco and the other 11 members of the team conducted more than 67 otosurgeries and saw 368 audiology patients (97 of which were hearing aid fittings) patients.
 
The Mission
 
This particular mission, led by Army Col. Scott Brietzke, focused on patients with medical issues of the ears, nose and throat. As such, the team screened more than 800 patients, either in-person or from a chart review, to determine the 50 best candidates for ear surgery, according to Brian Humbles, a WRB ENT technician. As the patients were being screened, other members of the team expeditiously unloaded ten pallets of supplies and equipment and set up the operating room.
 
As the lead audiologist of a two-person team, Blasco and Army 1st Lt.  Maggie Schad worked alongside a local ENT physician to see more than 380 patients between the 13th and 27th of May.
 
While in San Pedro Sula, the audiology team performed pre-op and post-op evaluations before and after surgery, hearing aid fittings, evaluations, hearing aid adjustments, hearing aid checks and limited hearing aid repairs.
 
And although most patients came from the surrounding towns and villages, one particular patient traveled more than ten hours to meet with the WRB audiologists.
 
Blasco elaborated about the need to see ENT specialists in this area, as the lines to the hospital would sometimes form at 5 o’clock in the morning, “Patients would come in early in the morning, and wait for hours.” Some Hondurans traveled from across the country to meet with the WRNMMC team.
 
Ramon
 
In 2016, Blasco met Ramon Ayala, a 6-year-old deaf child from the area.
 
After meeting Ramon, she knew she had to help, even if only in a small way. Subsequently, she initiated a sponsor program wherein some of the WRNMMC providers sponsor one child a year to attend the Escuela Cristiana Para Sordos Esmirna, a private school for the deaf in San Pedro Sula. So far they’ve sponsored Ramon and another 6-year-old boy.
 
According to Blanco, she and Army Lt. Col. Amy Blank, the former director of audiology and speech center at WRB each pay for one child’s annual tuition, uniform and school supplies. Tuition also covers breakfast, lunch and sign language classes for parents. Now in his second year at the school, Ramon is no longer a shy young kid as noted by Blasco on her last visit.
 
“Seeing the difference that we’ve made in those two kids’ lives is priceless,” explained Blasco. “They gone from being shy, not being social, not looking happy... you know, like detached from the world” to “happy-go-lucky children.” 
 
Navy Cmdr. John Trask also did his own philanthropy and donated creams, eye drops, clothing and other items in support of two underserved children with severe skin, vision and hearing problems.
 
Advice
 
Humbles, who had done the logistic planning for five prior MEDRETES, but was never able to go, was humbled as he finally got to experience firsthand how six months of detailed planning and organization, positively impacted those who the WRNMMC team saw in Honduras.
 
“It’s really a blessing to have the opportunity to go on such a mission,” explained the Florida Atlantic University graduate.
 
Having deployed twice before to Honduras, Blasco shared some advice for those considering, or being deployed overseas.
 
Of the three items that Blasco felt were critical to personal comfort, DEET insect repellent led her list, followed by medicine for potential gastroenteritis issues and sunscreen.
 
She also felt that the right mindset was just as important as what to pack. Learning more about the culture and cultural difference are huge, but her biggest advice would be, “To be open-minded and flexible.”