Friday, May 29, 2009

Project HOPE Volunteers See Results of Their Work

Carlos and the Comfort

Carlos and his wife of more than 45 years live in Colon, Panama. In the 1960s, Carlos was a painter for the Panama Canal. At 72, Carlos still works as a painter. Without a pension it is the only way he has to support his family.

Several months ago, Carlos developed hernia symptoms, and his work became very painful, making it difficult to work. Translating her husband’s words from Spanish to English, his wife explained, “We went to doctors, but we couldn’t get an appointment at the hospital.”

Then they saw a flyer announcing the arrival of the USNS Comfort.

Carlos was one of the first patients to be screened for surgery in Panama. Project HOPE volunteer surgeon, Dr. Weintraub remembers screening Carlos. “He was a very sweet man. I knew we could really improve his quality of life,” she said.

Carols came aboard the Comfort with his wife at his side and his surgery was performed the next day.

Dr. Weintraub and Project HOPE volunteer Eliza Speakman, a perioperative nurse were part of Carlos’s surgical team. HOPE volunteer Stacey Giglio, a critical care nurse, helped take care of Carlos following surgery.

“The surgery went very well, “ Dr. Weintraub said with a smile. “He should be able to resume normal activities soon.”

Not soon enough for Carlos. Just hours after the surgery, he was interested in knowing when he could get back to work…and start dancing again. “Look what was done in one day,” said his wife. “Everything is good.”

Before leaving the Comfort the morning following his operation, Carlos showed his appreciation with a thumbs–up sign.

Thanks for reading-Melanie

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Volunteers at Medical Clinic Help Record Numbers of People

Tuesday we left the boundaries of the USNS Comfort and traveled through the crowded streets of Colon to the Roberto Mariano Bula Stadium. People were already standing in line when we arrived before 7:00 a.m., hoping to see a doctor or nurse. As we arrived a woman approached me, pulling her son behind. All business, she pushed her son forward and showed me two burn marks on her son’s thigh. Despite his injury, the little boy was grinning from ear to ear. My rudimentary Spanish was not working well, so I pointed the mother in the right direction. As they walked off, the little boy continued to look back at me smiling and waving the entire time. I think that means thanks for being here, no matter what language we use to communicate.

This was the second day of medical clinics in Panama. Project HOPE volunteers, integrated with other NGO care providers and military counterparts working at two separate sites, saw more than 2000 patients today, many of them children. This is the largest single day number since the mission began.

But numbers never tell the whole story.

Project HOPE’s Medical Director Dr. Iserson was examining pediatric patients at the stadium-turned clinic. One of his first patients was 6-year-old Jassid. Conversing with Jassid’s mother in Spanish, Dr. Iserson found out the little girl has been seriously anemic. The mother had not been able to take her to a doctor for the past six months and she was very concerned about her daughter’s health. In the dim light of the clinic, Dr. Iserson examined Jassid, coaxing a smile from the little girl with the use of his small flashlight and finger-bending antics. Jassid was sent for a blood test to measure her iron level. Happily, Dr. Iserson was able to give the mother very good news. Jassid’s iron levels were within normal range. The mother’s eyes moistened with obvious relief as she thanked Dr. Iserson.

Later, Dr. Iserson was called upon to use his emergency room medical skills as someone collapsed in the crowd, another patient suffered an asthma attack and a volunteer interpreter fell and hurt her knee. Taking it all in stride, Dr. Iserson said, “I am here to help wherever I am needed.”

In the back of the clinic, HOPE volunteer Kathleen Britton, a certified nurse midwife, stayed busy from 7:00 in the morning to 5:00 at night continuously seeing dozens and dozens of women in the make-shift women’s clinic set up in the bathroom of a building on the stadium grounds. “This is a wonderful set-up,” she said of her sparse cramped setting. “It’s private, and there is even a bathroom for testing.” Working though an interpreter, Kate was patient and gentle with the women. Often times, she is the first medial professional the women have visited for years.

This is the second mission Kate has been on for Project HOPE. Last year she volunteered in Southeast Asia working in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. “It is tough sometimes when you see all the need,” Kate said. “But last year, I can think of about a dozen lives that were probably saved because of the work we did there. That is why I came back.”

Volunteers Marley Gevanthor and Stacey Giglio had the hottest job of the day, working out it in the heat screening patients who had been taken out of the regular line due to fevers or accompanying a person with a fever. The Ministry of Health in Panama is being very proactive when it comes to Influenza H1N1 and throughout the mission in Panama, all patients being seen by volunteers are required to first be prescreened by having their temperature taken. Those with a temperature above 99.9 degrees are sent to a second stage of screening before being triaged to the appropriate doctor or health professional.

“Despite the extra step the patients were very understanding,” Marley said. Volunteering on her fourth mission for Project HOPE, Marley didn’t even mind having probably the least desirable job of the day. Through a green surgical mask, she said, “This is where they needed me to be today, so I stepped up.” That seems to be a familiar theme for volunteers and their military counterparts.

Thanks for reading-Melanie

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Project HOPE Volunteers Do What they Do

Sometimes I really wonder why Project HOPE volunteers do what they do.

They trade the comforts of home, benefits of paychecks and the company of loving families for a month or more at a time to live, in this case, on a Navy ship traveling through Latin America, without a salary, sharing every waking moment with a bunch of like-minded strangers. They sleep in small quarters on bunks of beds with eight and sometimes more people in a room. They wake up, sometimes way before the 6:00 a.m. “reveille call” to run up six flights of stairs for a quick breakfast, and “muster” in the wee hours of the morning for transportation to their hot, busy worksites. They eat military rations on site, lather up with sun block to protect against its scorching rays and spray down with DEET to hopefully discourage disease-carrying bugs. At the end of the long day, they return to the ship, hoping to make the evening meal, climb countless more stairs running errands, trying to make time to communicate with friends and family whenever technology allows. And finally, before falling into their tight bunks at 10:00 p.m. “taps,” they feel fortunate to take a short, sometimes cold navy shower in a cramped dark stall.

But then I see the patients. People looking for help, for better health, for hope. They flood into make-shift clinics, wait in long lines for surgery screenings or come to education sites to learn more about their health professions and how to care for patients. Despite the stifling humid heat and the time they must invest to see a doctor, they wait, mostly patiently. Many are holding the hands of their small children, whose young eyes show both a little apprehension and a lot of curiosity at the same time. Some have been in pain for years; others are looking for answers, not sure what ails them or their loved ones.

Today was the first day of patient care, screening and health education in Panama. I attended the surgery screening located on the pier right outside the Comfort. More than 70 of the patients screened today were scheduled for surgeries onboard the Comfort during the next couple of days. Surgeries that might not ever have been possible for these people if it weren’t for the dedicated medical professionals volunteering their time and talents.

Dr. Sharon Weintraub,a general surgeon volunteering for Project HOPE, screened more than a dozen patients herself, including Carlos, a 72 year-old-man, who had been living with a large hernia for a year, making it difficult to walk and get around. “He was the first patient I saw today,” Dr. Weintraub said. “He was very kind and his eyes were soulful. We can really do something to improve his quality of life.” His surgery is scheduled for May 27. (Check back for an update.)

HOPE volunteers Barbara Perdikakis, Cynthia Cappello, Kendra Dilcher and Peggy Holt also worked in the 96 degree humid heat throughout the day to help screen patients.

Whether they were performing initial screenings before sending patients for consultations with general surgeons, gynecologists or pediatric surgeons or confirming that anesthesiology would be safe for the patient or making children feel at ease with stickers and attention, the volunteers’ compassion reminded me of all I needed to know.

It didn’t matter what they had to go through to get this point, or how hot it was outside or the fact that maybe they didn’t have every personal or professional convenience they were used to. The volunteers were using their talents and professional skills to make a real difference in the individual lives of people who needed help. Looking into the eyes of the grateful patients, the mothers, the fathers, the family members of those in pain, and seeing the interaction between them and the volunteers who are so willingly giving their time, suddenly it all made sense.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Meet the Project HOPE Volunteers

Continuing Promise 2009 Rotation 3
Project HOPE Volunteers
Panama and Colombia

Tauna Ainslie, a nurse with 29 years of experience in emergency room and ICU care, currently works as a crisis nurse at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and also works in the emergency room at a rural hospital, the Kahuku Medical Center. She is working as an ER trauma nurse during the mission.

Kathleen Britton, a certified nurse midwife from Tacoma Community College in Tacoma, Washington, has more than 27 years of experience in nursing, midwifery, women's health care and teaching. She volunteered for Project HOPE in 2008 onboard the USNS Mercy working with patients in Papua New Guinea and Micronesia.

Jane Bower,a nurse from Advance Nursing in Tucson, Arizona, is volunteering as a nurse educator onboard the Comfort. Jane is a first-time Project HOPE volunteer.

Cynthia Cappello from Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, Washington is volunteering for Project HOPE for the first time. A nurse with 26 years of experience in the Navy, she has visited the Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Russia for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.She is working as a nurse anesthetist (CRNA) on the USNS Comfort.

Sheila Cardwell, a registered nurse from St. Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a former volunteer. She will be serving as a nurse educator during Continuing Promise 2009. An experienced “Hopie,” Sheila’s volunteer experience with HOPE includes a rotation onboard the USNS Comfort in 2005 to help in relief efforts along the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, a rotation onboard the USNS Comfort in 2007 to Belize, Guatemala and Panama and a 2008 mission onboard the USNS Mercy to Vietnam and East Timor.

Elise Chamberlain, from St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way, Washington, has more than 5 years experience as a public health and ER nurse. She has traveled throughout Central and South America and spent 3 months studying Spanish in Guatemala. She is serving as a nurse educator for Project HOPE onboard the Comfort.

Dr. Marshall Cusic, a pediatrician from Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin, brings 37 years of civilian and U.S. Navy medical experience to his first mission as a HOPE volunteer. He assisted in support of the USNS Mercy during the 2005 Tsunami and follow-on South East Asia deployments. Marshall specializes in pediatric allergy-immunology with experience in tropical infectious diseases. He is a Spanish speaker.

Kendra Dilcher, a premed student from Haleiwa, Hawaii is a first-time Project HOPE volunteer. She is serving in an administrative roll supporting the surgical team onboard the Comfort.

Mary Feury from Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte, West Virginia is a registered nurse with 26 years of experience. While this is her first time volunteering for Project HOPE, she participated in Hurricane Katrina relief with the Red Cross, and worked on a medical mission in Honduras.She is working as a medical surgical nurse during Continuing Promise 2009.

Marley Gevanthor, a nurse with 28 years of experience from San Francisco General Hospital in San Francisco, California is a three-time HOPE volunteer. She served onboard the USNS Comfort in 2007 working in Belize, Guatemala and Panama. In 2008, she traveled to the West African countries of Ghana and Liberia, working on the USS Swift. Later in 2008, she traveled to Papua New Guinea and Micronesia onboard the USNS Mercy. She’s volunteering as a triage nurse for Project HOPE during Continuing Promise 2009.

Anastasia Giglio, a nurse from Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, is volunteering on her second mission for Project HOPE. In 2007, she worked in the Marshall Islands onboard the USS Peleliu. She is working as a critical care nurse during Continuing Promise 2009.

Peggy Holt is a nurse with 35 years of experience, with 15 in high risk obstetrics. labor and delivery and c-section recovery. Her most recent position was at the South Carolina Research Center working as a certified clinical research coordinator. On the USNS Comfort, Peggy is working on the medical/surgical staff.

Dr. Kenneth Iserson joined Continuing Promise 2009 in Antigua and will continue through the end of the mission, serving as Project HOPE’s Medical Director. A first-time Project HOPE volunteer, Ken is a Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson.He has more than 40 years delivering prehospital and emergency medical care. He has traveled and taught in many countries around the world, including Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Zambia, Israel and England.

Paul Kline is a professional photographer from Washington D.C. In his spare time Paul works on the “Silent Children Project,” a photo essay project to increase awareness of orphaned children around the world. Paul is volunteering his photography skills in Panama during Continuing Promise 2009.

Tracey Kunkel is an operating room nurse from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She retired from the U.S. Navy after 21 years and has specialized in areas such as Mother/Baby unit, Labor and Delivery, Orthopedics and Podiatry, General Surgery and Pediatrics. Her Navy experience also includes humanitarian assistance deployments on both the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort. She will serve as Project HOPE Operations Officer for the remainder of Continuing Promise 2009.

Kelly Magee a nurse from Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York is a first time volunteer for Project HOPE serving on the entire four-month long Continuing Promise 2009 mission.She is working as a perioperative nurse on board the Comfort.

Elizabeth Malloy is a registered nurse from the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. A first-time Project HOPE volunteer, Elizabeth is working as an ICU nurse onboard the USNS Comfort.

Melanie Mullinax works in the communications department for Project HOPE in Millwood, Virginia. Last year, she accompanied Project HOPE volunteers on their mission to Liberia. Melanie is working as the Public Affairs Officer in Panama during Continuing Promise 2009.

Barbara Perdikakis is a registered nurse from San Clemente, California. A returning Project HOPE volunteer, Barbara brings 35 years of nursing experience. Currently, she works in her specialty area of interventional radiology in Newport Beach, California. Barbara has volunteered yearly for the last 10 years on various medical missions in Central and South America. In 2005, when volunteering in Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, she met some Project HOPE nurses which led her to join the team. She volunteered with Project Hope serving on the USNS Mercy in 2006 in Indonesia. During Continuing Promise 2009, she is working as a critical care nurse/PACU.

Marina Rivera is on her third volunteer mission for Project HOPE. An X-Ray technician from Colorado Springs Health Partners in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Marina brings more than 20 years of experience in radiology to the mission. She also is retired from the U.S. Army. Marina worked in Liberia for Project HOPE in 2008 and just returned from her second mission to West Africa to Ghana in March of 2009. She is serving as an advanced X-ray technician onboard the Comfort for the remainder of the mission.

Megan Rohm is a first-time volunteer for Project HOPE. A nurse from Harborview Medical Center - University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, Megan is serving as a medical surgical nurse onboard the Comfort.

Iilene Smith, a nurse from the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin, is a first–time HOPE volunteer with experience coordinating medical teams to assist in Haiti. She is serving as a nurse educator during the Continuing Promise 2009.

Eliza Speakman,a first-time volunteer for Project HOPE, is a nurse from AMN Healthcare - St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. She is working as perioperative nurse onboard the Comfort.

Carolyn Springman is a first-time Project HOPE volunteer from University of California, San Francisco in San Francisco, California. She is volunteering as a triage nurse and will also be helping with immunizations. Carolyn speaks Spanish.

Ellen Tierney, a first-time Project HOPE volunteer from Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, has several years experience as a travel nurse. She is working as a NICU nurse onboard the USNS Comfort.

Dr. Sharon Weintraub is a general surgeon from Sinai Hospital of Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland. A second-time volunteer for Project HOPE, Sharon worked aboard the USS Kearsarge in 2008 in the Dominican Republic.She is performing surgeries onboard the USNS Comfort during Continuing Promise 2009.

Kristen Wilson, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, is also a member of the International Medical Surgical Response Team-East. She is a returning Project HOPE volunteer, serving on the USNS Comfort in 2007 in Belize, Guatemala and Panama. On Continuing Promise 2009, Kristin is serving as a critical care nurse/PACU.

Support the Project HOPE Volunteers

Monday, May 25, 2009

Project HOPE Volunteers Get to Work, Even on Liberty Leave

A new group of volunteers joined the Continuing Promise 2009 humanitarian mission while it was on liberty port in Cartagena, Colombia, but that didn’t stop Dr. Marshall Cusic from getting right to work. While out touring the city and visiting a market place, Dr. Cusic, a pediatrician from Wisconsin was practicing his Spanish speaking skills with a store owner, explaining the work he would be doing in some Latin American countries over the next few weeks. Hearing that he was a doctor, the store owner asked Dr. Cusic to look at her young son who was working by his mother at the market. The mother was concerned about the 2-year-old’s rash.

Dr. Cusic proceeded to ask to the mother a few questions, communicating in Spanish. “I did what I would do as if I were working in a clinic,” he explained. “I asked about fever, cold, when the rash appeared and other symptoms.”

Dr. Cusic concluded the boy had a heat rash and advised the mother on how to care for it. “You could tell the mom was relieved,” he said. “And we had a good laugh. She liked that we figured it out together."

Tomorrow--technology permitting-meet all the Project HOPE volunteers working in Panama.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Group of Volunteers Join Humanitarian Mission on USNS Comfort

Comfort off coast of Cartagena

I am Melanie Mullinax, I work in the communications office at the Project HOPE Headquarters, and once a year, they let me out of the office to travel with our medical volunteers. Last year, I traveled to Liberia for two weeks. The experience was both inspiring and eye opening and I witnessed first hand the compassion, the dedication and the overwhelming desire of our volunteers to provide their much needed medical experience to those in great need. I am looking forward to working with this new group of volunteers onboard the USNS Comfort as it continues, Continuing Promise 2009, a 7-country humanitarian and health education mission in Latin America.

I joined 21 new volunteers from Project HOPE on May 21st as we boarded the Comfort when it was on liberty port in Cartagena, Colombia. Seven volunteers were already onboard. Some have been working since the mission began in April, others joined in different countries along the way.
Already Project HOPE and their Navy counterparts onboard, as well as volunteers from other NGOs and other braches of the military have treated 31,000 people.

The ship just docked in Panama this morning and volunteers are eager to get to work, preparing to begin as early as this afternoon.

Check back for more stories and photos of volunteers in the coming days.

(We are very fortunate to have professional documentary photographer Paul Kline onboard, who is providing most of the photos as volunteers work in Panama.)


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rotation Two Volunteers Complete Work

It hardly seems possible that more than six weeks have passed aboard the Comfort. It seems like all one day. As we steam for the liberty port in Cartagena, we all can look back, with pride and humility, on the opportunity we’ve had to provide quality health care and education, and hope, to the tens of thousands of people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and on the beautiful islands of Antigua & Barbuda. The numbers speak for themselves—and when you break them out by categories they’re staggering, with new records being set every day during the last week before we “pulled the hook” in St. John’s Harbour. Before we arrived, many of us were wondering why we were even going there, since it’s not a country one thinks of as being underserved. We were anxious about how we’d be received because of rumors—which were not wholly unfounded—that we might not be able to do any surgeries on the ship for a variety of political reasons. What we found turned out to be quite the opposite. The government officials and local doctors and nurses warmly greeted us, and we were busier than ever, as borne out by the numbers. The operating rooms handled as many surgeries as in Haiti, and did it in one day less. The icing on the cake was that Nurses’ Week was celebrated while we were there, and this provided many opportunities to socialize with the local nurses who worked side-by-side with, and were taught by, the Comfort’s nurses. And, as always, there were many, many compelling cases of patients’ lives being changed because of the care they received. One night, to give just one example, at the customary “1900 Confirmation Brief”—the meeting that recaps the day’s events and gives us the plan for the next day—one of the doctors showed a video he made of an interview with an elderly patient. I didn’t write down her name, unfortunately, but all of us will remember her story. She had cataract surgery on both eyes, having been blind for more than five years. She expressed her gratitude for having her sight restored…and for being able to see her young grandson for the first time. There were a lot of moist eyes when the video ended.

So now we’re underway to Cartagena. Everyone’s excited about taking liberty. Even while enroute, we’re able to do some fun things that not every humanitarian volunteer gets to do. Such as, yesterday some of us got to drive the boat and go on a tour of the engine room. Anyone who thinks scullery is the hottest, dirtiest job on the ship needs to spend 30 minutes down there!

I’m not sure if I’ll have a chance to blog again from Cartagena. If I don’t, I’ll sign off now with a wish that everyone who’s reading will think about doing something for another person in need every day—even a smile counts! No matter where you are or what you do for your “day job,” you can provide someone with hope.

Monday, May 18, 2009

HOPE Volunteers Complete Work in Antigua

Even in the final moments during the Antigua mission, Project HOPE healthcare volunteers continued to make substantial and sustainable changes to many patients’ lives. Due to their efforts and those of the USNS Comfort’s medical staff, a 9-year-old cerebral palsy boy got a wheelchair, a 35-year-old quadriplegic man got the antibiotics needed to save his life, a 55-year-old woman was treated for a severe allergic reaction, and a 37-year old woman (who had already had one non-debilitating stroke) got medication to treat her severe and uncontrolled hypertension—probably saving her life.

Even as we packed up our gear, the Antiguans kept thanking us for our efforts. “God bless Project HOPE,” said one lady. “We all thank you so much for being here.”

-By Dr. Ken Iserson, serving as Project HOPE's volunteer medical director in Antigua

Support Project HOPE Volunteers