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Medical Mission Group Leaves Its Mark in Nicaragua

Thursday, Sep 22, 2016

It is no longer enough for this group of Doylestown Hospital physicians and nurses to go to Nicaragua on a medical mission one week each summer. They are working to meet the medical needs of the villagers even after they leave.

"We are coordinating teams of clinicians in Nicaragua that include health care students and professionals who will continue follow-ups of the patients who need ongoing healthcare," explained Patti Wood, CRNP, who made her third mission trip this summer. "It is our hope to eventually empower each community to take ownership of their surroundings such as water purity, air quality, and health care."

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with many of the villagers earning the equivalent of $25 per week. Many do not have access to healthcare services.

A group of 28 Doylestown Hospital physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, technicians and family members, some of whom are in their teens, spent a week based in the mountain town of Matagalpa in July. They traveled to four different villages where they set up clinics and saw about 850 people of all ages in four days.

Doylestown Health donated supplies and medications for the trip. The New Jersey Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center based in West Trenton provided hundreds of pairs of eyeglasses.

Michel Chapnick, DO traveled to Nicaragua for his eighth mission trip this summer.

"Every year I go on the mission I say the same thing, ‘This was the best trip yet.' I can honestly say that was true once again," said Dr. Chapnick.

Mollie Covington, RN made her fourth trip this summer.

"I fell in love with the country and the people," said Mollie, who works in Doylestown Hospital's Intensive Care Unit. "They have so many needs, and we have a limited time to meet them."

"A lot of people can't afford to see a doctor," said first-timer cardiologist James Guarino, MD. Many homes have dirt floors and indoor stoves, which contribute to breathing problems. Dr. Guarino made several house calls to villagers who could not make it to the clinics.

Dr. Guarino also enjoyed bonding with his 19-year-old son, James, on the trip. James wants to go again next year.

Villagers waited in line for two hours in the hot sun and pouring rain to take a seat in a lawn chair and see a clinician. High blood pressure, pre-diabetes and gastrointestinal issues are common. A dedicated team of translators assisted with communication.

"The villagers dress up for us - they are very appreciative," said Mollie, who, like many on the trip, donated most of her clothes before leaving. "You go there to help people and you get so much out of it."

Wanting to make an impact throughout the year, a group of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and others at Doylestown Hospital formed Healthy Neighbors International earlier this year.

The goal of the nonprofit HNI is to build partnerships with medical and nursing schools in Nicaragua to provide clinical collaboration and follow-up care after the team leaves.

"There are many ways for us to communicate such as Skype and FaceTime," said Patti. "Of course, text messaging and a simple phone call will play an important role."

HNI held its first 5K fundraiser in May and plans to hold another next year. The group is hoping to engage regular donors through the Healthy Neighbors Campaign, a drive for people to give $10 a month per year or a one-time donation of $120 per year.

"Unfortunately, we are not able to take donations of supplies due to the cost of transporting them down to Nicaragua," said Patti. "A monetary donation lets us purchase medications through pharmacies in Nicaragua. It also helps us provide for the cost of the medical personnel in Nicaragua."

For more information, visit Healthy Neighbors International's Facebook page for photos and videos from their recent trip.

About Doylestown Health

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the  local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 232 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.

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