Posted By: Alyson Landry on September 9, 2011

Labels: , Volunteers

Earlier this summer, 21 Project HOPE volunteers provided medical care and health education in El Salvador. Read their stories.


Mariana Velasquez sat stone still resting her head in the hands of a naval nurse while the doctor scraped a piece of skin off a lump near her right eye. Even when the blood trickled up, she sat as he blotted it away. 

A tiny Band-aid was placed over the wound, and then the tremors came. 

Velasquez, 70, shook as if she were in an icebox, but the nurse rubbed her arms, shoulders and chest to calm her nervousness as the translator spoke soothingly and held her hand. 

Dermatology took a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of basil cell cancer. Three months ago, Velasquez had the growth removed only to have it return. The doctors had not properly cut out all cancerous cells, therefore the cells multiplied and reformed into another lump. 

The surgery cannot be performed on the ship because of its complex nature. After confirmation is received for the biopsy, Velasquez will be referred to the Ministry of Health in El Salvador, who will ensure that she receives the correct procedure. 

This is only one interesting case that peppered the 902 patients seen at the Instituto Nacional de Acajutla medical site. A record number for the mission. 

 “I had a great day,” says first-time HOPE volunteer Emily Kirchner, a pharmacy student from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia “I didn’t even notice the time until everyone wrapped up.” 

Other new volunteers who worked at the site included Dr. Janet Kinney, a Pediatrician from Tarrant, Texas; Janis Zloto, a Certified Nurse Midwife from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dr. Jeff Cukor, an Emergency Room Doctor, from North Providence, Rhode Island; and Beverly Griffis, a Nurse from Margate, Florida. All had a consensual good time while getting the hang of the general issues patients come in with. 

Faye Pyles, a seasoned HOPE volunteer nurse and Chief Nursing Officer on the Continuing Promise 2011 mission offered a lesson in adaptability and improvising.  

Pyles cut the top third of a water bottle, cleaned it, wrapped tape and gauze around the plastic edge and attached it to an inhaler. “Voila! You have an inexpensive breathing apparatus for a child,” she says. “A normal plastic and rubber apparatus costs $20 or $40,” she adds.  

Dr. Kinney, a neonatal physician made one for her patient too. “The asthmatic child does not even have to time the inhaler with their breath,” she says. “The apparatus is placed over the mouth, pumped and the child’s chest rises and falls to count four breaths.” 

A total of 1,743 patients were treated at two medical sites, and 17 surgeries were performed aboard the USNS Comfort.

Check out our Flickr page for more Alyson Landry photos of volunteers at work in El Salvador

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