Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Project HOPE Now Recruiting Volunteers for South Africa

Project HOPE is recruiting volunteers for a land-based mission in South Africa from October 10-26, 2009. This pilot volunteer program will focus on chronic disease assessment in two urban slums in the vicinity of Johannesburg. Learn More

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health Education in Tonga Successful

Project HOPE volunteer John Hammill reflects on successful work in Tonga:

The Tongan clinic was a huge success. Because we worked with the hospital staff on a daily basis, we have left a more lasting impact on the Tongan healthcare system than we did at any other site. At the close of our clinic I had a very candid and open conversation with the head physician and director of Niu’ui Hospital. He was moved almost to tears as he described his gratitude. In reference to an old proverb he said “You taught us to fish.”

This is what has made this clinic so successful. The medicines and equipment we left behind were nice, but the sustainability of our work will come from the knowledge we exchanged.

The Niu'ui Hospital in Ha'apai Tonga

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meet the Project HOPE Volunteers for Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Western Samoa

HOPE volunteers from Shenandoah University participate in Pacific Partnership 2009

Four volunteers from the Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy in Winchester, Virginia are working aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd and on shore on a four-month humanitarian assistance and health education mission in Southeast Asia. The volunteers are serving patients in the remote Oceania nations of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Western Samoa. Read the Press Release

Stephen Creasy is currently attending Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia to obtain his Doctor of Pharmacy in 2010. The first-time Project HOPE volunteer works at CVS/Caremark Pharmacy in Winchester. Onboard the USNS Byrd and ashore, Stephen is using his pharmacy skills to help people in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands.

John Hammill a pharmacy intern currently enrolled in Shenandoah University is a first-time Project HOPE volunteer. John is working aboard the USNS Byrd and ashore in Tonga and Western Samoa.

Dr. Alla Marks, a pharmacist with more than 20-years of experience is an Associate Professor at Shenandoah University, Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy in Winchester, Virginia. A first-time Project HOPE volunteer, Alla will serve on the USNS Byrd and ashore in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands.

John Nett is a pharmacist with 15 years of experience including a 24-year career as an active duty Air Force officer. A first-time Project HOPE volunteer from Williamsburg, Virginia, John is working aboard the USNS Byrd and ashore in Tonga and Western Samoa.


Elizabeth Johnson, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate at Shenandoah University recently completed a volunteer mission onboard the USNS Comfort, visiting El Salvador and Nicaragua. Read about her experience in her own words.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Project HOPE Volunteers Complete Latin America Mission

More than 90 Project HOPE volunteers completed a nearly 4-month mission providing humanitarian and health education in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

While the final numbers have not yet been calculated, volunteers and their military and other NGO counterparts:

Treated more than 80,000 patients

Performed more than 1,100 surgeries

Participated in more than 37,000 educational encounters

Delivered $1.2 million in medicines and medical supplies

But numbers never tell the real story. We hope you have enjoyed reading the numerous stories of lives changed through medical care.

The Continuing Promise 2009 mission is complete, but HOPE volunteers are now serving on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia, helping those in need in the remote Oceania nations of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Western Samoa. Four pharmacy volunteers from Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy in Winchester, Virginia are working aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd on the four-month humanitarian assistance and health education mission. Check back as we continue to document Project HOPE volunteers as they work around the world...
...and please support our dedicated medical volunteers.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pharmacy Student Blogs About Project HOPE Volunteer Experience

Elizabeth Johnson is a Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. A first time volunteer for Project HOPE, Beth worked as a pharmacy technician onboard the USNS Comfort. Read about her experience in El Salvador and Nicaragua in her own words.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

HOPE Comes Full Circle in Latin America

LTJG Hussein Rawji transported Project HOPE volunteers from the USNS Comfort to their medical worksites in Nicaragua. Forty years ago, his mother-in- law joined HOPE volunteers onboard the SS HOPE as part of the local medical community that helped volunteers deliver primary care and distribute the donated medical supplies in Corinto, Nicaragua.

Read his story

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Medical Care and Community Service

Medicine isn’t the only thing the Project HOPE volunteers practice during the Continuing Promise mission. Along with their Navy counterparts, our volunteers have completed about three community service projects in each of the seven countries we’ve visited this year on USNS Comfort.

Today, HOPE volunteer Elizabeth Roughead and I visited the Santa Eduvigis retirement home with a dozen or so Navy, Army, Air Force, and other NGO volunteers to fix their gutters, install a drainage ditch, generally clean up the outdoors areas, and—maybe most importantly—visit with the folks living there.

This service project, and others like it, which the Navy calls “COMREL” projects—Navy shorthand for “Community Service”—is just one of the events that Elizabeth has participated in during Continuing Promise. As a volunteer administrative assistant, she has rotated through each department onboard USNS Comfort, the Navy’s hospital ship and base of operations for the deployment.

“Its really a great experience, because I get to see a little of what everyone onboard does,” says Elizabeth. “When I heard that the Navy was shifting towards these type of cooperative deployments, I knew I had to get involved in some way. I have biology degree, but no medical background, so I help out wherever I’m needed…and there’s a lot to do.”

Elizabeth, whose father is Adm. Gary Roughead, the Navy’s top admiral, has had her finger on the pulse of the Navy’s humanitarian missions since 2005, when Project HOPE, the Navy, and other NGO’s pulled together for the first time to support the relief effort for the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

“Being able to come out and give back something that I know actually helps people—health care—has really made me glad to have done this,” says Elizabeth. “When you see someone’s life change overnight, like I have when I was working with the doctors and nurses in the OR and the post-op wards, makes it all worth it.”

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mother Drives Her Son Across Two Countries to Get Care

Another awesome story is this little boy, Oscar. He and his mother are actually Salvadoran. He’s got strabismus (wandering eye), and his mother brought him to one of the sites in El Salvador late in the stay last week. Late enough that we were able to do a work up for him, but not able to get him into one of the ORs—they had all been booked for some time.

So she asked, “Where are you going next?” We told her, and with a simple, “Ok,” she left...Only to show up at the site in Chinandega, Nicaragua, on the first day it was open, paperwork in hand. She’d driven him across two countries just to see us. The ORs were wide open. With that drive, she’d changed the course of her son’s life. He was operated on today, and as the muscles in his eyes get used to their new positions, they will line up as they should.

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Friday, July 10, 2009

Volunteers Help Restore Health and Lives

The best part of today was checking in on all of the patients from the last two days. I’ve been following the case of Sixto Lopez since he came to the screening site three days ago. A 61-year-old man, his job is “working with the machete” –a field worker, but he was very specific that he didn’t cut cane. Maize and sorghum (I believe I got my plant terminology correct) are his specialty.

His son and grandson are also fieldworkers in the same line of work. Sixto has not been able to work for several months, however, because the scar from an old gallbladder removal has herniated, forcing him out of the fields. His family has been suffering without the extra income—so much so that neither his son nor grandson could afford the time off from work, so his granddaughter-in-law, his grandson’s wife, came with him on escort duty.

I saw him again last night in the Hotel, where Project HOPE volunteer Doctor Bob gave a final exam just to make sure of the morning’s work (see photo). His granddaughter, Nicoleta, is just as shy as the rest of the Nicaraguan women I’ve met—but very friendly once they smile and open up to a conversation.

Today was Sixto’s surgery, and everything went “swimmingly,” as Doctor Bob would say in his best faux-Monty Python. I gather that that means, “very good.”

I caught back up with Sixto and Nicoleta in the Post-op ward after the surgery, but Sixto was indisposed to the photo op. I took this of Nicoleta and me instead. That’s a huge smile for the photo, for a stoic Nicaraguan.

Check back tomorrow for another heartwarming patient story. And as always, thanks for reading-Jacob

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Volunteer Surgeon, Dr. Bob Coleman Helps Provide Hope

Two residents crowd around the operating table as the surgeon gives instructions. His voice is low and calm, but carries the force of experience. The whole surgical team moves as one orchestra, with his voice conducting.

The woman on the table has had this procedure done four other times, each ending in disappointment. This time, she hopes, will be different. This surgeon has more equipment, more knowledge and experience than the others she’s seen. Yet he’s giving her this care for free—as is the entire surgical team. In fact, the whole operating room and the entire hospital she’s in come at no cost to her.

The Nicaraguan woman on the table, is under the care of general surgeon Dr. Bob Coleman and his team here on the U.S. Navy’s floating hospital ship, the USNS Comfort. The care they provide is part of a joint effort on the part of the Navy, international militaries, and NGO’s to provide free health care to underserved and developing nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission is called Continuing Promise, and Doctor Bob, a volunteer through Project HOPE, has been onboard for three weeks.

“Being in private practice, it’s tough to get the time away to come and do these missions,” says Dr. Coleman. “But if it’s important enough, you’ll find a way.”

Part of a three-man surgical team based in Champagne, Illinois, Doctor Bob is finding more and more time to come to places like Corinto, Nicaragua, La Union, El Salvador, and others throughout Latin America to provide his services where they are needed most.

Project HOPE will bring over a hundred surgeons, doctors, nurses and midwives aboard the Comfort this year in this collaborative effort with the Navy.

“Using the Navy’s hardware along with the manpower and expertise of the NGOs is really brilliant,” says Dr. Coleman. “We’re really becoming more than the sum of our parts out here. There are frustrations, of course, but the bottom line is that this is happening, and care is getting to places where before there was no hope.”

“I personally feel—and you can see this in everyone who works here—I feel a deep calling to this type of work in the world,” he adds. “And when there are this many people who care this deeply about a problem, things are ultimately going to come together.”

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

HOPE Volunteers Begin Work in Nicaragua

Project HOPE hit the ground running in Corinto, Nicaragua after a one-day transit from El Salvador. Elie Malloy and Diane Speranza headed to the most remote site Continuing Promise has set up so far—far enough from the ship that they’ll remain there tonight and the next two days in order to make the logistics feasible. (To be honest, I’m a bit glad I can’t reasonably make it all the way out there—it is hot enough in the town of Somotillo, away from the coast, that the locals say its “where the Devil takes vacation.”)

At the closer of the two remote sites, in the nearby village of Chinandega, Dr. Ken Iserson and HOPE’s pediatric nurse practitioner, Faye Pyles, charged in to begin administering primary care to the CorinteƱos and Chinandeganos—people of Corinto and Chinandega. Amy Bream and Marley Gevanthor’s triage skills kept the first day—always the hairiest—running smoothly and efficiently toward the primary care providers.

Meanwhile, HOPE volunteer Elise Chamberlain was leading a training day on pain management in one of the classrooms at the hospital. She and other volunteers covered four topics—Pain, Pain Management, Acupuncture, and Physical Therapy—to interested doctors and nurses from the Chinandega hospital.

The first two days of Continuing Promise’s presence in a country are also unique because we run a surgery screening clinic in addition to the primary care facilities. Here, volunteer general surgeon Bob Coleman saw as many patients as he could possibly see today (and will again tomorrow) to fill up his OR schedule for the next 9 days. He’s got several tough cases coming up for himself, including a woman with an incisional hernia that has been operated on four times, unsuccessfully.

“After the last time, the doctor looked at me and said, ‘I won’t touch it again,’” she told Dr. Coleman.

The injury is pretty large, and after his examination, Bob told her the risks of further operation, and the risks of leaving the injury as it is. He believes he’s found the reason why the previous surgeries failed, and that he has the equipment onboard to evade the same problem. She’s chosen to come onboard with us and go under Doctor Bob’s knife—we’ll see her in the hotel tomorrow.

Dr. Coleman was also asked for a special favor today, something somewhat unusual in Continuing Promise—the two-man general surgeon team showed him into the ICU where a young girl (she looks much older here than her 10 or 12 years) was in recovery after having had severe inflammation and infection in the abdominal area, tachycardia up to 120 beats a minute, and a very high fever. The surgeons had performed an appendectomy and opened several pockets of severe infection—now she is stable, but with a large surgery wound in her abdomen. They believed that she was on her way to recovery, but simply wanted his opinion on the case.

She was eating, talking, and fever was lower, which along with some other indications led Dr. Coleman to agree with their assessment. But the biggest thing was that when she saw our HOPE shirts, she sat up in bed and began excitedly pointing into her mouth—hardly the behavior of a fatally sick child. It turned out that she was just more excited to tell us about how she had come aboard the Comfort on its last visit, in ’07, for a cleft lip/palate surgery, which looked good enough now as to be almost undetectable. Abdominal wound, fever, whatever—this was important!

Thanks for reading-Jacob

PS—also, the US Surgeon General toured the Comfort and the worksites today. Nothing but kudos from him to the sailors, soldiers, and civilian volunteers that are keeping this mission afloat.

PPS—Happy Fourth of July!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Underway on the USNS Comfort

The Project HOPE team set sail today for our final stop this year on operation Continuing Promise—Corinto, Nicaragua. On most Navy ships, underway is when things really crank up, but here, away from the port, the patients, and the work sites, the doctors, RN’s, nurses, midwives, sailors, soldiers (and yes, cameramen) get to take a little breather.

Which isn’t to say that it was a complete day off. The HOPE volunteers took over galley duty today, serving lunch and dinner, and cleaning the tables and dishes afterwards. The Culinary Specialists (CS’s) take such great care of us day in and day out, it was the least we could do to take the pressure off of them for a couple meals.

The volunteers also took a tour of the bridge, the brain of the ship. Joe, the Third Mate, had the deck, and graciously answered every question the girls posed to him, from turning radius and radio operation…to marital life and time spent at sea.

And, of course, there was the mandatory abandon ship drill. Each of us donned a blaze orange life jacket and, when the fire bell sounded, rushed for the flight deck. There, chaos somehow became order, and each sailor and volunteer were accounted for…

Tomorrow, we set the anchor again and begin the process of setting up for the final round of surgical screening, patient triage, education, vet assistance, surgery, prescriptions, and all the rest. Sleep well!

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fair Winds and Good After-care, El Salvador

It’s the last day of services in Pasaquina, El Salvador. The same crews that transformed the Pasaquina Elementary School classrooms into the biggest hospital in the area are now converting them back into 1st Grade Math, 3rd Grade Reading, and 4th Grade English rooms. Meanwhile, the last of the waiting patients are being seen, final prescriptions written, and last health education pamphlets handed out for this country.

Which is not to say that the doctors and nurses didn’t go full steam ahead to the very end. In fact, some of the cases most in need of attention came yesterday and today. Doctor Ken Iserson, Project HOPE’s senior medical officer, saw the only case of Rickett’s, a rarer form of malnutrition caused by vitamin D deficiency, in a toddler yesterday. The boy’s mother brought him in with the complaint that “His feet are funny.” Not just his feet, though—his legs are obviously bowed outward, and under x-ray the ends of his bones significantly mushroom up, a signature of Rickett’s.

Fortunately, he got care just in time. His condition is not irreversible, and the Ministry of Health here has been in campaign against all forms of malnutrition for several years. His case got immediate attention from them, which is very good, as it’s usually not as simple as just adding more D to his diet. Most likely, he’s getting a normal amount of vitamin D, but not absorbing properly. Now, its in the Ministry of Health’s hands to find out why.

Project HOPE volunteers were also on the scene doing some non-medical assistance today. Diane Speranza and Elizabeth Roughead both participated with about 10 sailors in what the Navy calls a “COMREL” Project—military shorthand for “Community Relations,” their way of reaching out to the local communities where they harbor to lend a helping hand. Diane and Elizabeth both “got their lumberjack on” by clearing low-hanging limbs from trees that were directly over the Leones Special-Needs School. The trees were threatening the corrugated tin-roofed building, so the Navy/HOPE team cleaned them up, cleared the gutters, and even trimmed the hedges. (All this, of course, after due time was spent playing with the kids.)

That’s just two snapshots of all the activity today, though. Our Ops boss, Tracey Kunkel, represented HOPE at the El Salvador closing ceremonies today, and volunteer nurses Jane Bower, Ann Russell, Elise Chamberlain, Tina Weitcamp, and Meg Candage all were at the Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Salvadoran Ministry of Health educators, discussing El Salvador’s public health education program, rabies and dengue control, atraumatic dental practices, and El Salvador’s public contraceptives and sex education push. And on top of that, all the rest of the HOPE nurses were trying to get the remaining patients packed, together, and ready for their helo ride home.

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Saturday, July 4, 2009

HOPE Volunteer Charity Braden Caring for Post-Op Patients in El Salvador

In rural El Salvador, the local elementary school has been turned into a bustling hub of medical activity. Thousands of potential patients wait at the gates. Scores more are in the initial screening process, and dozens are seeing health care providers in what were, until two days ago, children’s classrooms. As patients see the specialist doctors here, those who require surgery are forwarded to one of the 6 OR’s operating just a few miles away.

Crossing those few miles, however, will require what will most likely be the ride of the patient’s life. A Navy SH-60 helicopter will pick up the pre-op patients later that day, and hustle them aboard the white-hulled Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, anchored 10 miles off the coast. They’ll spend the night aboard, with volunteer nurses managing their pre-operation medication and diet, before being operated on the next day. From the OR, they’ll go briefly to ICU, then to the post-op ward to spend the night before the helo ride home the following day.

Here, in on the post-op floor, Charity Braden, a Project HOPE volunteer nurse, listens to the heart, lungs, and abdomen of her six patients as she comes on shift. Her bright spirit and enthusiasm are infectious, and soon all her patients are smiling with her. Like nearly all of the nurses here, Charity is volunteering a month of her time to deliver humanitarian aid to the places it is most needed in the Americas. Her presence in post-op allows more patients to be sent through the OR’s more rapidly, upping the “operation tempo” of the entire ship.

“Its great to be in a place where I can come do some real good in the world,” says Charity. “I’ve been trying to get out on a mission like this for three years, and both my husband and I are beginning doctorate studies later this year, so its awesome that I could do it this time. This is my first humanitarian mission, but my goal is to volunteer around the world with my nursing skills.”

A North Carolina native who now lives in D.C. and works in the ICU at George Washington Hospital, Charity is looking forward to beginning her studies as a Nurse Practitioner and to getting out on more volunteer work.

“Project HOPE is one of the few NGO’s that do volunteerism as well as they do, and its been really powerful to be part of the cooperation going on between the military and humanitarian NGO’s. They really have huge logistical capability, and we bring the extra manpower and expertise to make this mission happen. I’m really glad to be a part of it.”

Thanks for reading-Jacob

Friday, July 3, 2009

Patients and Public Relations

I spent a few moments with HOPE volunteer RN Carrie Reichert in the ICU this afternoon, while she was looking after Juan Jose, an 8-year-old boy who had just come up from anesthesia after a successful tonsillectomy, and his cheerful, hovering mother, Sandra. There were only two other patients in the ICU today, patients that for whatever reason were at higher risk for bleeding or other complications. In fact, in a “normal” hospital, they probably wouldn’t need to be in Intensive Care; but, we have the equipment, we have the space, and we have the staff, so it is no problem to give them an elevated level of care.

Getting the word out in the States about the daily struggles and triumphs of the volunteers and Navy personnel working here is a big deal, but the real heavy lifting comes in letting the rest of Latin America—and the world—know about what we’re doing here. Working through the embassy, Navy public affairs lead Matt Gill arranged for 5 different media outlets (television, radio, and print) to come aboard USNS Comfort today to tour the ship, meet the patients, surgeons, and nurses, and get a better picture of what we do here, how we’re helping.

I stayed with them for the entire tour, translating where necessary and doing a few interviews. Our first stop, of course, was the mess decks, where they got a taste of some good Navy chow. We then stepped through the patients’ process—Casualty Receiving, Pre-op ward (the Hotel), where we met Project HOPE volunteer RN Addy Wakeman, post-op wards. The cameras will get to see the OR and some surgeries tomorrow before they head home.

In the Hotel, one of the patients called out to a video crew (in Spanish):

“Hey, what channel are you guys?”“Channel four, my friend.”
“Oh, that’s the Salvadoran channel.”“…Well, yeah.”“We get Honduran television better here. Too bad.”

We’re anchored a mere 37 mile from the Honduran border, and due to the mountainous terrain, many of these Salvadorans get better reception from Honduras than from San Salvador, a three hour bus ride away.

After showing the media crews to their bunks, I stopped back by the ICU to see Juan Jose again. The night nursing staff was on, and he was now in the capable hands of HOPE volunteer RN Sarah Angelo. Both the boy and his mom were sleeping soundly—mom most likely because of exhaustion, the boy because of his hectic day.

On the post-op floor, HOPE night nurses Kelly Magee and Susan Troll were keeping things wrapped up as well. Kelly, who has been here since Miami, was in charge of the starboard wing, and Susan had six patients for the night in the port wing. Besides a few infants waking up now and again, only to be calmed by their mothers -- on the night shift, all was calm and quiet.

Thanks for reading-Jacob