ON A DENTAL MISSION – Woman Travels to Honduras to Save Teeth & Change Lives

Jun 24, 2011 | About Other Adventurers, Central America, Girls Trek Too, Guest Bloggers

I believe one way to turn travel into a more fulfilling adventure is to embark on a mission. I met Coloradan Lynette Collins at a book event, where she read an inspiring email she’d written about her recent mission to Honduras. She and her dentist husband had joined the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club of North Carolina for a medical/dental mission. Lynette kindly agreed to let me share her email here. The written content is unaltered, with the exception of a few words of clarification:

One way to turn travel into a more fulfilling adventure is to embark on a mission. A medical/dental mission to Honduras is just one of many possibilities.

LYNETTE’S EMAIL

Hi everyone!

I wanted to let you know that we returned early this morning and we are well… no malaria yet like George Clooney contracted in Sudan! Bozo. He should have taken pills and received his shots like we did!

First of all, thank you so much for your donations. You outfitted a school for a year with the supplies they desperately needed. This school, paid for by Chapel Hill, North Carolina Rotarians, has eight rooms and is made of cinder blocks. It is open air, but at least has a tin roof to keep the rain out. It’s located in a village named Medina that is outside of Puerto Cortez (over an hour bus ride from the San Pedro Sula area).

I can’t express adequately enough how “third world” this little village was, more like a slum. We have witnessed poverty in Tanzania, Mexico, Alaska, the Bahamas and the Dominican, but nothing compares to what we saw in Medina. We were there less than a week and five people were murdered right near the school! They are so desperate that they constantly steal from each other. They are simply in survival mode. We saw the shoeless, lots of orphans (because of the high murder and HIV death-rate), and families trying to live in one-room shanties with dirt floors and corrugated tin roofs. Most homes don’t have running water. I’m not sure of the average age of the girls’ first pregnancy, but I’m guessing it is around 13 or 14 years old.

They are simply in survival mode.

It’s quite a mess for many reasons, but what struck me the most is that there is enough economy/money to drink sodas (there’s not much milk). But they don’t have money for health care at all, which means their teeth are rotting out of their mouths.

There is enough money to drink sodas. But they don’t have money for health care at all, which means their teeth are rotting out of their mouths.

We had nine dentists, two physicians, and one pharmacist. The rest of the 34 “gringos” that flew from the States had support roles, were sterile techs, etc. As for locals, we had translators that came from a bilingual school a couple of hours away. We had at least ten armed guards to do crowd control so that we wouldn’t be mobbed and have our supplies stolen. The guards carried M-16 assault rifles and were very respected. At one point we had ten or fifteen Honduran Navy personnel keeping everyone back as well.

We had at least ten armed guards to do crowd control so that we wouldn’t be mobbed and have our supplies stolen.

When we arrived, the lines were long. Some had waited overnight, because when you are in pain because you need an extraction or have an infection and need a root canal, and you don’t have much access to care, you are willing to walk a long way and wait. This missions group has gone in once per year for five years now, so the locals could go up to one year in pain before they receive care again, and some even try to pull their own teeth.

Some had waited overnight, because when you are in pain, and you don’t have much access to care, you are willing to walk a long way and wait.

Dental chairs were fundraised for years ago and were carried down and set up, only to be stolen, so now the group takes down weight benches for the patients to lie on. Some dentists had to just have patients in wooden chairs leaning their heads back. As a whole, hardly anyone even winced at an injection. They are tough.

As a whole, hardly anyone even winced at an injection. They are tough.

I wish we could teach them to not urinate just anywhere, how to protect their water instead of bathe and wash clothes in the ditches, and how to not litter. There is trash all over the ground and in the ocean that accumulates in the bays. What beautiful country that is destroyed with air pollution (from burning trash on the ground), and a death rate that is high from multiple diseases due to unsanitary conditions. With corruption comes not a whole lot of infrastructure.

We had four local dental students that came from about two hours away to help out. In Honduras, of course there isn’t much chance for education or to improve their situation, but these fortunate students are trying. In Honduras, dental school starts after high school. There was an 18-year-old dental student pulling teeth! I couldn’t believe it. The school is free and lasts four years. After that, the government sends them to different areas in the country where they have to work for a one-year commitment. When the year is up, they can work in private practice. The government doesn’t offer dental care, it is just trying to spread some dentists out.

We noticed children screaming when the students were doing extractions. (By the way, their degree is not good in the US.) They would inject and then immediately start yanking roughly before the patient was even numb, while another student held the patient down. It was torturous to watch. David came to the rescue. When they broke teeth off, he finished the job delicately. He started putting his hands over the students’ hands and showing them how to slowly and gently remove the tooth. He made quite an impression. The students started watching him and asking questions. He spent a lot of time teaching and letting them do work while he instructed… so maybe he changed the lives of the students and future patients! I’m proud that David chose to “teach them how to fish instead of just giving them fish,” so to speak.

All in all, the trip was a huge success. The group saw over 2,000 patients and did over 5,000 procedures. The medical side saw the most, with most kids having worms and many having skin conditions. Even though the heat index in the school had to be 110 degrees, the group stayed compassionate. The generators stopped working twice, which means we didn’t have electricity, which means the compressors couldn’t run the dental equipment, which means that some archaic dentistry was happening. But at least no one stopped working hard. This same remarkable group goes down year after year, and of course there are tons of sad stories and many patients can’t be seen because there aren’t enough hours in the day.

The group saw over 2,000 patients.

But there are good stories, too. One elderly sick man walked 17 miles to be seen. He was late and the group was packing up. Needless to say, the clinic was reopened for him. David kept fitting more patients in and the group had to make him stop. I love that man. One sad story this year was that we saw a patient on Thursday during the day, completed his care, and we heard on Friday that he was murdered Thursday evening.

My contribution was not working in the clinics, but incredibly tiring all the same. I kept over 1,500 kids entertained! To maintain order and space, the guards kept the line outside the school. I would take 30 kids from the line into a classroom and we would do crafts and “school work” and play games in a courtyard. It was challenging with the language barrier. I know just enough Spanish to get by. At one point I had about 50 kids following me around in the courtyard waiting to see how the crazy white woman would explain the next game by using only body language!

We would do crafts and “school work” and play games in a courtyard. It was challenging with the language barrier.

After the kids were tired, I would then deliver them to another classroom where we would educate them about brushing their teeth. The next stop was triage, where they were divided up into lines based on their needs. Then I would go get the next 30 from the line and start again. So, we started their needed health care day out with a little fun.

The next stop was triage. (If you look closely at this girl’s tag, you can see that she was slated for a filling.)

I also got to hand out all sorts of supplies to those in the long line to distract them from waiting most of the day in the heat. I was mobbed a bunch with outstretched hands, and the armed guards had to assist me to make it more orderly. It wouldn’t matter if it were a much-needed pair of shoes, or food I brought from home, or a tiny bottle of bubbles, they wanted it desperately. I felt great about delivering them needed supplies (I felt a little like Santa). I enjoyed delivering fun when they don’t have many escapes. The kids were beautiful. All who made the trek to this clinic in the jungle were so appreciative… and the language barrier was not an issue because they showed love by hugging me and by taping a US flag to the wall of their school. I’ll end with… God Bless America!!!

Hope you laughed a lot today!
Lynette

After over 25 years working in information technology, Lynette Collins retired to run her husband’s dental practice in Lakewood, Colorado. Participating in health care missions falls under her motto, “live wisely, love well, serve greatly.” She and her husband live in Conifer with their three kids, ages 15, 13 and 10. Lynette loves all of the “ings”: water skiing, wake boarding, scuba diving, snow skiing, sky diving, hang gliding…

About Cara

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands. She’s a winner of The Moth StorySLAM and performs in many storytelling shows, including Unheard L.A., and Strong Words. Her writing appears in such publications as Los Angeles Times, Manifest-Station, and Writing for Peace. She’s a traveler, swing dancer, and baker of pies. Cara and her husband live in the beach-town of Ventura, California, where they enjoy tending their Certified Wildlife Habitat full of birds.
Cara Lopez Lee

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