Our medical outreach activity in Honduras began in San Pedro Sula even before our Guatemalan activity in the late 70’s. At the time San Pedro Sula, a coastal town on the Caribbean, was largely dependent on agriculture, primarily banana plantations. Today, San Pedro Sula is a booming industrial city that exceeds even the population of the capital city, Tegucigalpa. There are high-rise buildings and poverty, textile factories and poverty, banana plantations and poverty, and so on.
Answering an ad in the Journal of Thoracic Surgery, which was recruiting volunteer thoracic surgeons to operate on tuberculotic patients at the Leonardo Martinez Hospital, our surgeons traveled to San Pedro Sula to perform thoracoplasties. The only public hospital was outmoded and lacking basic facilities. Medical equipment and supplies were sparse. The laundry was hand-washed and hung to dry. While the well-to-do sought treatment at the private hospitals or flew to the United States for medical care, the rest of the population was cared for by the poorly equipped public hospital, Leonardo Martinez. A good example of the dire situation we faced: A patient was on the operating table and already asleep when a sterile sheet was accidentally dropped. The surgery had to be canceled because there was not another sheet available.
First Heart Procedures
We worked through several summers at the Leonardo Martinez Hospital. Besides the never ending row of tuberculotic thoracoplasties and lung resections, we also had the opportunity to perform several closed (without a heart-lung machine) heart procedures, -the first ones in the country.
The news of our efforts reached the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, where we were first invited to lecture at the University of Honduras, and afterward to operate at the Instituto Nacional de Thorax, -mainly on patients suffering from tuberculosis. The scope of our work quickly expanded to the performance of heart catheterizations and simple open heart operations, -again, the first ones in Honduras. About twelve subsequent trips to Tegucigalpa were made by our team. Each time 6-8 open heart cases were performed. Then problems, however, began to mound when Honduran surgeons, who were well experienced in lung surgery, but had only a few months training in Charlotte in open-heart interventions, yielded to local pressure and began to do heart surgery in our absence. The results were disappointing and they were forced to suspend the program.
San Pedro Sula
The International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program returned to the Republic of Honduras in 2009, when we were invited to the Mario Catarina Hospital in San Pedro Sula to re-examine the possibility of opening a cardiac surgical program. The Program has participated in several discussions with local health authorities and everyone agrees that San Pedro Sula is in need of heart surgery. In this task, we have been assisting them by providing cardiac services in a modular fashion.
Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
Within six months of our initial conversation, we assembled an up-to-date, 14-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the San Pedro Sula Social Security Hospital. Prior to installation, the critically ill children were housed together with adults and in a poorly equipped intensive care area. The Unit was opened by the Director of the hospital, Dr. Bessy Alvarado, as well as officials from the Honduras Government and Social Security Administration. The Unit is capable of accommodating critically ill children and neonates including those before and after heart surgery.
Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory
Three months after the opening of the Intensive Care Unit at the Social Security Hospital, the Program delivered and installed a Heart Catheterization Laboratory as a permanent unit in the same institution. This was the second facility available to the public in Honduras, and the first to serve the three million people in the western part of the country. It is expected that an open heart surgical program will be implemented within a two year period, after completion of specialty training of a Honduran surgeon.
Provider Training and Medical Equipment
The third program is to create a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgical program at the Social Security Hospital. Together with Carolinas Medical Center’s Department of Surgery, we have provided educational opportunities and instruments to Dr. Caroline Araque, a local San Pedro Sula surgeon.
Pediatric Burn Unit
Another major undertaking of the Program is the Pediatric Burn Unit, also in San Pedro Sula. Because of the high incidence of burn victims, a cooperation agreement was signed according to which the Honduran government donated a 1,300 square meter area within the campus of the Leonardo Martinez Hospital, for the Ruth Paz Foundation to build a specialized hospital unit to treat burn injuries of children. The Ruth Paz Foundation asked the Program to partner with them: they build the facility and we furnish it. The Program was able to supply The Hospital for Burned Children with 80 percent of the necessary equipment – including patient beds, operating room tables, monitors, ventilators, and disposable supplies. The hospital is expected to treat nearly 2,000 patients throughout Central America each year. In addition to burn injuries, children can be treated for other types of surgical interventions, alleviating the existing 12-month waiting period for pediatric surgeries in Honduran public hospitals.
Outpatient Clinic in Ixchel
The Program partnered with the First Methodist Church of Seminole, Texas, to sponsor the Ixchel Indigent Outpatient Clinic of Copan Ruinas, a facility run by two dedicated young Honduran general practitioners, Drs. Maritza and Franco. The Clinic is a five room facility dedicated to cover the healthcare needs of the inhabitants, mainly Chorti Maya Indians, in the small town of Copan Ruinas and its neighboring area. With the nearest physician about 20 miles away, the Clinica Ixchel is the only medical facility providing outpatient services, including emergency services. Besides having fully equipped the Clinic and its small laboratory, the Program maintains a continuous flow of medical supplies to Ixchel.