Posted By: Meredith Rizzo on June 9, 2011

Labels: Colombia , Volunteers


Work began this past week in Tumaco, Colombia at the Max Seidel medical screening site. Patients lined up for surgical screenings the first two days, while medical screenings will be ongoing.  

Colombia has been a logistical change for the HOPE volunteers who boarded the ship in Ecuador. Anchored off the coast, volunteers must board smaller boats and ride 45 minutes to get ashore or take a helicopter and bus to the Max Seidel site. Hot and humid days have also been tough, but the HOPE volunteers have been hard at work. 

Yesterday, HOPE volunteers and the Continuing Promise 2011 team treated 625 patients at the the Max Seidel site.

Surgeries aboard the USNS Comfort also got underway on June 3rd, including 16 surgeries performed yesterday. One of those surgeries was on Irene. At 101 years old, she flew via Navy helicopter to arrive for cataract surgery onboard the Comfort. Besides the occasional headache, she was in otherwise good health. I saw her at the surgical screening site, where her escort presented me with her government ID card to prove she was 101 years old.  

“But she still does her own laundry,” the translator piped in, laughing. 

There were also a number of burn patients coming in for tissue revision surgeries, including a 17-year-old girl with burns on her face and neck. A prior surgery had attempted to correct the burn scars by taking a muscle flap from underneath her arm and replacing it underneath the chin, however the surgery had left her with too much tissue and not enough chin definition.  


I visited Wendy LaFargue in the PACU just as Deb Atwood delivered the 17 year old from surgery. While Atwood updated LaFargue on the patient's status, history, and medications from surgery, the girl reached up tentatively, touching her face.  

LaFargue glanced over to see tears on the patient's face.  

“Is she in pain?” LaFargue asked the translator. 

The patient shook her head no, eyes still closed. 

“Is she happy?”  

She nodded. 

The burn cases the HOPE volunteers have seen so far have all been attributed to gas fire burns, most likely a result of open flame cooking or heating.  

Medical sites on the ground  and surgeries aboard the USNS Comfort continue through the end of the week.

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