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Nindiri 2004 Mission Report

Written by Jonathan Wasserstein, OD

 

Greetings members and friends of VOSH-Northeast,

 

Like last year, I was the “jefe” or mission director of the VOSH-Northeast trip.  I would like to spend a little time detailing exactly what goes into planning a mission before giving a review of what we did.  The actual planning begins on the previous mission.  On the final day of last year’s clinic in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, I went with Miguel Silva (more about him later) to the town of Nindiri.  We spoke to the mayor’s office, toured the town, and inspected the potential clinic site.  Following our report, the group determined that this would be an appropriate site for a future mission, though nothing was immediately finalized.

 

Once a site is chosen (or even before,) the procurement of supplies begins.  Larry Ulm and Marty Fair, neither of whom was able to attend the mission this year, acquired over 25,000 pairs of eyeglasses.  Most of these came from Lions Club recycling centers, though many of our members donated non-prescription sunglasses (including my father, Norman Wasserstein, who donated 200 pairs.)  This supply was whittled down to 13,000-15,000 pairs of useable glasses.  Once this was done, they and Tim Kennedy assembled the main working library of over 10,000 pairs.  The spectacles remaining in Nicaragua from the previous year’s mission would supplement this year’s supply.   Al Amerigian collected wheelchairs from around New England and repaired them for use.  He was able to locate and fix over 100 for use by those less fortunate.  Sue Seidler and the medical group ordered medications from two different sources and then had a “party” to better organize and distribute everything that they had.  Over the course of the year, our dental crew was able to collect thousands of dollars worth of supplies for use on the mission.

 

Just acquiring the supplies was not nearly enough.  Everything then had to be shipped to Nicaragua.  This is always a very expensive and labor-intensive process.  We struck a deal with an organization that had a shipping container going to Nicaragua.  In exchange for 40 wheelchairs and a to-be-determined sum of money, they would place our gear into their container.  Once this deal was made, we had to get everything to New Canaan CT, from where the boat would depart.  Larry Ulm trucked the eyeglass library from his home in southwestern Pennsylvania, which took up an entire day.  Carl Sakovits and Joe & Maryann England rented a truck to drive the wheelchairs and other supplies from Al Amerigian’s storage facility to New Canaan.  Once there, everything had to be loaded onto the container.  This entire process is extremely difficult and arduous, and until now unnoticed by many of us.

 

Once everything is on the boat, it takes about a month to get to Nicaragua.  Once there, it needs to be removed from the container, placed on trucks, and moved to a secure facility.  Luckily, we had trusted people working on the Nicaraguan end.  First and foremost is Miguel Silva.  Miguel is an optometrist of Nicaraguan descent who lived and worked in the Seattle area for many years with his wife Velia.  In December 2002, they “retired” and moved back to the Masaya province of Nicaragua.  I put the word retired in quotation marks because since they arrived in Nicaragua, Miguel has worked very hard on a great deal of projects, only one of which is our mission.  Without him, the mission would have been far more difficult to organize, and quite likely would not have been successful.

 

Miguel and representatives of the mayor of Nindiri met the shipment of glasses and wheelchairs
from the boat and transported them to a secure location in Nindiri.  But this is not the only 
thing that was done locally.  Before beginning an undertaking such as a VOSH mission, you 
must have an organization working to make sure everything is taken care of locally.  This 
year, as in quite a few of the past years, we worked with the Rotary Club of Masaya.  Raúl
Jarquin, a physician, was the president this year.  They took care of a host of things, most 
notably publicizing our visit to the locals.  This is a difficult job, as what we call typical 
methods of PR (newspaper/TV ads, billboards, etc.) do not work with people who do not 
read and do not own TVs, which unfortunately compromises a large number of our patients.  
Another important function performed by the Rotary was the pre-registration of patients 
before they saw any of us.  Also, the Rotarians, and Angeles Bermudez in particular, provided 
lunch for everyone in the clinic.  They also found people to clean the clinic, and to guard it 
at night while we were gone.  Other prominent and helpful members of the Rotary club were 
physicians Martin Ugarte and Silvio Navarro.  A gentleman named César Mayorga worked at 
the clinic all week as a liaison of the office of the mayor of Nindiri, and was extremely helpful 
to all of us.  A young lady named Karina, who is the daughter of a Rotarian, for coordinating the 
record 50+ translators that we had.  I also want to give a lot of thanks to some of the 
translators who have worked with us for many years, including Lenin, Gema, both Juans, 
Alex, Luis, and all of the others whose names currently escape me.  

 

No mission is complete without a few deviations from the expected.  I thought everything was going well until the night before the mission.  Once I got home from work, I had two e-mails waiting for me.  One was from the ministry of health (MINSA) stating that some of us, including myself, were practicing on expired licenses.  This was not true, but there was little I could do about it until our arrival in Nicaragua.  The other was a note from Henry Mendoza, one of our members who had already arrived in Nicaragua.  He told me that the school we were planning on using would need most of the space we had been counting on, and that we could only use six of the rooms there.  Having been there before, I was planning on using twelve or thirteen rooms, and had no idea how we would all fit.  This disturbed me, but there was nothing I could do until we got to the school and spoke to the principal.

 

Most of us traveled to Nicaragua on the 17th of January 2004.  Some of our members were already there, and two more would not arrive until a day later.  This year we had a very veteran group.  Seventy-five people signed up for the mission, and fifty-one had been on a VOSH-Northeast mission before.  Fifteen of the new people were students, and the other nine would either be directly involved with patient care or were primary relatives of current members.  For the first time in many years, we kept the number of people on the mission constant from the previous year.  This needed to be done, as our group has now grown to an astronomical number of people.  It has gotten to the point that most hotels in the country cannot accommodate us.  If we had more people, we could not have fit into the hotel we stayed at this year.

 

This year we stayed in a place we had never stayed in before.  We stayed in a hotel called Campo Real, which is located along the road between the cities of Managua and Masaya.  Six years ago, we stayed in a roadside motel, which turned out to be disastrous, so many of our members were a bit apprehensive.  However, we had little to worry about at Campo Real.  The hotel was built with foreigners in mind.  The rooms were air-conditioned, and some even had hot water in the showers.  Trees surrounded all the buildings, and they even had pets—a toucan, a peacock, and a monkey.  There was an outdoor common area, which is where they served all of our meals.  There was a swimming pool and a big-screen television.  Some of the hotel staff even spoke English, which was a great relief to me. 

 

We basically took over the hotel.  A few rooms were left for the public.  One of these rooms was taken by a seasonal resident.  His name is José Contreras.  For those who don’t recognize the name, he is a pitcher for the New York Yankees.  He defected from Cuba and can no longer return there, so he now lives in Nicaragua in the off-season, and decided to make our hotel his home for the winter.  Much as it pains me to say anything nice about a Yankee, he turned out to be a nice man.  He didn’t even mind when Larry Ginsberg (wearing a Red Sox shirt) and I (wearing a Mets shirt) surrounded him for a photo.  José seemed very interested in our work in Nicaragua, and offered to support us.  There were a good number of Red Sox and Mets fans in our group, and if he hadn’t been so pleasant (or let’s face it—if he hadn’t been so large,) there might have been some funny stuff going on. 

 

While in the airport in Miami awaiting our connection on our way to Nicaragua, we bumped into Joe and Zabelle D’Amico.  They are long-time members of our group, who went on to form VOSH-NECO.  They were heading for Bluefields, Nicaragua for a mission of their own. 

 

When we arrived at the airport in Managua, we were met by a representative of MINSA, who wanted to verify everyone’s license.  This was done to her satisfaction—first crisis averted.  The office of the mayor of Nindiri arranged for transportation from the airport to our hotel.  We all sat in a bus, while our luggage went into a dump truck (which I can only assume was clean.)  Such is the way of things in Nicaragua, or as they say in Spanish “Así es Nicaragua, así es mi pais.”

 

On the plane and in the hotel, we all started getting (re-)acquainted with one another.  Most of the rest of the people came on Saturday night (sans luggage, unfortunately) and we had a group meal followed by introductions and a brief orientation.  As many of us had been awake since the very early morning, most of the group decided to go to bed early to prepare for a long week.

 

On Sunday, we had a group breakfast at the hotel, and then we drove about 25 minutes to the clinic site in Nindiri.  Nindiri is a small city in the Masaya region of Nicaragua.  For those unfamiliar with such things, Masaya is a provincial city, meaning it is a province/state, but its capital city shares its name.  There are a great number of smaller cities and villages (known also as comarcas) within the province of Masaya.

 

Upon arriving at the clinic site, we immediately sought out the principal of the school.  He was the one who told us two days before that we could only use six rooms, when we were counting on twelve or thirteen.  We had about 70 of our people, plus translators and local volunteers, and we would not have fit into six rooms.  The principal told us that the national government decided to make that week a registration and testing week, and that he would need five rooms to do his job.  A sixth room was now a computer room and was off limits to us as well, as was their library.  Now we had a conundrum.  After some negotiation, we were given one of the previously needed rooms, plus what was basically a large closet as well as his office.  It wasn’t quite what I had planned, but it would have to do.  As anyone who has gone on a mission can attest to, you have to be flexible.

 

Now came the important task of assigning rooms.  This is occasionally difficult, as people can get territorial.  There was none of that this year, however.  We placed our registration people in the area between the entrance and the exam rooms.  Our hosts brought in a large tent to help protect them from the blazing sun.  There was a building containing six rooms.  These rooms would hold our eye and medical examiners.  This building tended to be the cause of a lot of confusion and congestion among our patients during the week, but we had no other choice.  We placed our dental group inside the principal’s office.  This happened to be right next to the entrance to the clinic.  I wonder how many people turned around and left when they heard screaming.  The mobility group/wheelchairs we placed outside.  Originally, they were situated on a stage (which was covered,) but we quickly realized that most patients with mobility problems would not be able to climb the stairs that led to it.  So we used the stage for storage and fit the wheelchairs and devices on the ground.  We placed the pharmacy in the glorified closet.  Space was tight, but the veteran group was able to manage.  However, many of us (including me) were evicted from the area if we lingered too long.  The largest room at our disposal was used for the eyeglass dispensary.  This room needed the longest time to prepare.  When we got there, the room was filled with chairs.  When I say filled, I mean filled.  From floor to ceiling, there had to be at least 300 chairs in a 300 sq ft. (~30 sq. m.) room.  Every chair from the entire school was apparently in this one room.  It took the entire group a long time to remove them.  Once rooms were assigned, we had to set up everything to our satisfaction.  There were far fewer tables than we needed.  We had to use cartons from the eyeglass shipments as tables, and needed to purchase three tables for the dispensary.  Luckily, the pharmacy had two bookcases where medications could be placed.

 

By about 12:30, we finished setting up, and loaded the buses for the Laguna de Apoyo.  This is a lake located within some of the mountains of the Masaya province.  It was a long, winding road to get there, but the journey was worthwhile, as we had a nice day taking in the sun and swimming in the lake.  Some of our members also watched the NFL playoffs on the restaurant’s television.  It was a nice rest period, which would prove to be in stark contrast to the next four days.  That evening was quiet, with no scheduled activities. 

 

The next morning was the first clinic day.  Historically, the first day is always the most disorganized, as no one knows quite what to expect.  It took a little while to get things moving, but once they did, we were busy.  We saw the following number of patients:

 

EYES

MEDICAL

DENTAL

CATARACT

SURGERY

WHEELCHAIRS

& WALKERS

PHYSICAL

THERAPY

494

271

48

6

35

7

 

The biggest demand seemed to be for wheelchairs.  We gave out half of what we brought with us, and could have given out the rest, but we had to keep more for the next two days.  The total number of patients for the day was 861.  This would be by far the quietest day.  That evening, there were no scheduled group activities.  Some of us got on a bus and went to the city of Granada for the evening. 

 

Tuesday was definitely a busier day.  There was a long line of patients waiting to see us when we arrived.  We actually started running out of certain medications already, and had to purchase more.  Our patient count was:

 

EYES

MEDICAL

DENTAL

CATARACT

SURGERY

WHEELCHAIRS

& WALKERS

PHYSICAL

THERAPY

653

330

62

7

16

19

 

The total for the day was 1087 patients.  Following clinic, we went back to the hotel, and we treated to a typical Nicaraguan feast by our hotel.  We had clay plates with banana leaves covering them.  Each of the many hot dishes was served over an ornate pot with a flame inside—basically like a sterno setup but with much more character.  We also had a mariachi band and a birthday party for Bob Plass and Shelly Ross, all compliments of the hotel.

 

The next day was visiting day at the clinic.  In the morning, the wife of Nicaraguan president Bolaños came to see us.  Now I know what a celebrity’s entourage is like.  A few of her security people were around her, so were some of the Rotarians, myself, plus some VOSH people were rotating in and out as well.  The first lady was very gracious, and said nothing but great things about the job we were doing.  She stopped into each room, and spoke with many of our people.  A few of the Nicas also stopped her for a conversation.  She stayed for about thirty minutes, and was definitely our most important visitor to date. 

 

As I said, this was visiting day.  In the afternoon, José Contreras came to visit.  He brought three friends, but his entourage was much smaller than the first lady’s.  He also visited every room, and even stopped to dispense a pair of glasses to a patient.  He signed a few autographs for us and our translators, and was also very thankful for the work we were doing.  After that, a couple of members of VOSH-Florida stopped into the clinic.  They had just come from a mission in the northern part of Nicaragua. 

 

Our patient count for the day was as follows:

 

EYES

MEDICAL

DENTAL

CATARACT

SURGERY

WHEELCHAIRS

& WALKERS

PHYSICAL

THERAPY

714

351

80

9

14

19

 

The total patient count was 1187, a full 100 more than the day before.  In the evening, there was no scheduled group activity.  A bunch of us went to Granada once again.  About 20 of us went to a restaurant called Café los Chavalos.  A little explanation is probably in order here.  A few years ago, an American woman named Donna Tabor joined the Peace Corps and went to Nicaragua for two years.  After her term was up, she decided to permanently relocate to Granada in order to help the many street kids there.  She started an organization called Los Chavalos (loosely translated—the kids) to do this.  One of her desires was to start a restaurant to teach the kids some job skills so that they could become independent.  The end result was Café los Chavalos.  Everything was terrific, and I recommend the place to anyone visiting Granada.

 

The next day was our last day in the clinic.  There were no special guests, so things were a little more uneventful.  We were completely out of wheelchairs, having dispensed our last few on Wednesday.  We started running out of low prescription glasses, sunglasses, and certain medications.  We were able to purchase some medications, but the glasses could not be replaced.  The patient count for the day was:

 

EYES

MEDICAL

DENTAL

CATARACT

SURGERY

WHEELCHAIRS

& WALKERS

PHYSICAL

THERAPY

759

313

72

8

0

20

 

The day’s total was 1172.  The total for the four days was officially 4308 (however, the actual number was definitely higher, there are always people that we examine but their registration falls through the cracks.)  The breakdown was:

 

EYES

MEDICAL

DENTAL

CATARACT

SURGERY

WHEELCHAIRS

& WALKERS

PHYSICAL

THERAPY

2,620

1,265

262

30

65

65

 

Once clinic was over, we disbursed our remaining supplies.  Eye medication was given to a local ophthalmologist, Dr. Cardenas.  General medicine and related supplies were given to the Rotary Club to disperse.  Leftover dental supplies went to both the Rotary and a couple of local dentists who worked with them for the week.  Some of our excess eyeglasses went to the Rotary Club for distribution, the rest were placed in storage for our use next year.

 

I want to give thanks to our jefitos, who were of great help organizing the individual sections of the clinic.  They are Marie Rondeau for general clinic, Steve Grimes for cataract surgery, Larry Ginsberg for optometry, Tim Kennedy for the optical dispensary, Joe England for medicine, John Kerwin for dentistry, and Al Amerigian for mobility.

 

That night, we had a farewell dinner at the hotel, and gave thanks to everyone who worked with us.  There were close to 120 people there.  A hearty celebration followed.  On Friday, the group split up for a little hard-earned R+R.  Most of us returned home a couple of days later, confident in the though that we made a difference in many lives.

 

Special recognition this year goes to a member of VOSH-Northeast who was not able to join us this year.  His name is Frank Siringo, and he is an optometrist with the 4th Infantry Division of the US Army.  Captain Siringo is currently ten months into his deployment in Iraq, and he is currently stationed in the city of Tikrit.  We all hope that he gets home safely and quickly.

 

On a personal note, I hereby officially announce my resignation as president and mission director of VOSH-Northeast, effective upon selection of my successor.  The decision on a new mission director will happen at our next board meeting, which I anticipate will happen in the next month or two.  Organizing and directing two mission of this scope has been an awful lot of work, but it has also been very rewarding.  In my term, we have seen over 8,000 patients, and changed many lives for the better.  I could not have done it without the help of all of the great people who really made the last two missions the fabulous successes that they were.

 

For those who have not read any of my mission reports in the past, I try to include stories written or told to me by individual members.  This adds a more personal touch, and gives the readers a better feel of exactly what we did.

 

“On Tuesday, I happened to be taking pictures in one of the medical exam rooms when Dr. Joe England and his medical student/translator removed a benign fatty tumor from the back of a patient.  Dr. England took the opportunity to advance the experience and knowledge of his medical student, introducing her to the thickness of back skin, as well as tying sutures and the ‘magic stitch’ that closes the incision both deep and shallow in one stitch.  It was a real pleasure for me to watch a surgical procedure from beginning to end, particularly because of Dr. England’s patient tutoring of his translator, which helped me to understand how and why he chose the particular techniques he used.”  David Hart

 

“On the first day of the mission, a woman was trying to pass a slip of white paper through the window of the dispensary.  Several people ignored her, because there are always people trying to get your attention to ask for something.  I took the paper, and was very touched by the message on it: ‘Norteamerican (sic) brothers, thank you very much for your love for my country.  G-d bless you.  We love you.’  I had David (her son-ed.) go with me to take a picture of her.”  Nancy Hart

 

“We had selected the smallest possible frames for a sleeping infant in the arms of his mother, but they were still too large.  Considering the route of stateside fabrication to be a failure of resourcefulness, we attempted an unusual fitting - Tim Kennedy curved the earpieces near the ear to make a cable temple, then bent them inwards and back again to fit the baby's small sleepy head.  It looked bizarre (not by V.O.S.H. standards!) but it actually did fit quite well.  I saw an awesomely tender sight as he slipped the cables over the ears with all the care of his gentle giant heart.  He was leaning over mother and child, examining the fit silently to avoid waking the baby.  I borrowed a camera to document this when suddenly the baby woke up, and not very happy about the frames.  It started bawling and pawing at them.  Jenny Atwood, Tim, and I then began to discuss whether we wanted to dispense these bent frames or attempt a stateside fabrication.  It was a stressful and serious conversation in the crowded dispensary with the baby screaming right in our ears and a long line of Nicaraguans staring at us.  Tim started to mention how we could measure inter-pupillary distance on an infant when the mother decided that nursing the baby would end the argument.  Sure enough, the crying stopped and our conversation resumed.  If it were an uncomfortable conversation before she pulled up her shirt, it was even more stressful after the baby stopped crying while we pretended to ignore the relativistically cultural non-taboo.  Finally, I broke down and said something to turn my colleagues bright red in the face, hoping no native in earshot knew the anglo-slang word I had chosen for the part of the body we were so viciously avoiding.  We suppressed the giggles somehow and decided to dispense the bent frames, noting that the baby would grow into the frames and the mother could un-bend the temples as needed over the next months and years.  As you might imagine, the camera I had borrowed was returned unused.”  Bob Plass

 

“My most memorable moment in Nica this year was being G-dmother to a baby whose family I took care of 5 years ago and have maintained contact with ever since.  The baby is one year old and her name is Emy Patricia.  It was quite an experience spending 5 and a half hours with a Nica family in Masaya with no interpreter!!  Makes one REALLY learn ways of communication!”  Eileen Tiexiera

 

“Bob Plass received an eyeglass prescription in the dispensary.  The right eye was +3.00 and the left was -2.00, with a reading addition of +2.50 in both eyes (editor’s note: this is an extremely unusual prescription.)  We did not have a pair of glasses in our library to match this prescription.  Bob carefully took two pairs of spectacles and made one pair of glasses.  There was a difference in the height of the bifocal line of about 5mm.  This difference worked to our advantage because it helped offset the vertical imbalance in the reading section of the glasses.   When the older gentleman received the glasses, he could see clearly in the distance, and when he looked down to read he saw one image looking through the segment.  This is just one of many instances that multiple pairs of glasses where used to make one workable pair of eyeglasses for someone who really needed them.”  Tim Kennedy

 

“One morning, I was taking visual acuity of patients. I measured the acuity of a woman,
 and after that see gave me a big hug and thanked me for doing it. She said that she 
was so happy that we were there. And I only took the visual acuity!!”  Kitty van den Berg
 
“While checking out an elderly campesino before cataract surgery, he was complaining 
about a problem in his mouth. I asked him if he would like to see one of the dentists. 
His reply was ‘no, I already saw one 35 years ago.’ Needless to say it was obvious by 
looking at his teeth.”  Joe England
 

“My highlight was when we gently forced the president's wife to get involved with a 14 month old boy with bilateral clubbed feet.  She had no choice but to act as the T.V. reporter listened to her response as to what she could do for this poor boy.  The last report to me was that the boy was scheduled for surgery in mid-February by an orthopedist in Managua.  I think we made a major difference in that boy’s life.  It feels pretty damn good.”  Rocco Andreozzi

 

“I registered one older woman in the morning, and by the time I got to work in the 
dispensary, she was waiting. I happened to get her prescription and filled it. She was 
either mentally handicapped or had Parkinson’s disease because she slurred her words 
and was constantly shaking. However, she was unbelievable sweet and appreciative. 
‘permita que mí bese la mejilla. Gracias gracias.’ She exuded. She proceeded to kiss 
my cheek and bless me. Right then I realized how important we were just being there.”  
Whitney Catanio
 
“One event showed the complexities of language barriers.  My longtime translator Juan 
asked me if I could examine the uncle (or brother: I never quite figured it out) of a 
friend of his.  Well it turned out that the friend was a Chinese woman living in Nicaragua.  
She spoke Chinese and Spanish.  The uncle was visiting from China and spoke only Chinese.
Therefore to do the examination, the questions and responses went from me to Juan to 
the woman to the patient, and back around again.....and again!  Not a quick visit!”  
Larry Ginsberg
 
“It is so rewarding to see such gratitude in so many eyes.  The smallest things have such an 
impact on the lives of the Nicaraguan people.   I brought many hair ribbons with me and I 
put them very secretly in the hands of children and women whom I thought might need 
and enjoy them.  And with my closed hand they received them and kept their hand closed 
until out of sight of the pharmacy.  I watched as some opened them with such delight.  
Something so small bringing so much joy.  We can learn so much from these people.”  
Carol Peltier
 
“I am so proud to be part of a group (VOSH Northeast) that not only completes a great 
mission year after year, but are also a great 'bunch' of people that pull it all together.”  
Diane Brown-King
 
“My 2004 VOSH mission experience in Nicaragua has truly shaped my future in the 
profession of optometry...I will gladly do it over again knowing that in some way I have 
helped to improve the quality of someone's life.  One particular patient that I saw in the 
clinic was a perfect example of why our efforts are truly needed and appreciated by those 
less fortunate. His name is Diego and he is a 48-year-old artist from Masaya...He had never 
worn a pair of glasses before and had come to suffer the gradual effects of presbyopia.  
Diego's art became more tedious and difficult to produce over the last few years.  When I 
first took his near visual acuity, he could barely make out the 20/200 line.  But after a 
quick scope with my lens rack and the placement of a +3.00 pair of readers on him, he 
was able to see everything in front of him with amazing clarity.  Seeing the fire and spark 
in his eyes was as valuable a gift to me as it was to give him the gift of clear sight.  
Diego could now again create the artwork that he had so longed for.  He thanked me with 
such deep appreciation and admiration, and I walked away from that exam understanding 
that vision is so much more than 20/20 visual acuity.  It is the ability to live your life with 
one of the most important human senses.”  Pauline Leong
 
“Of all the myriad of things and people I saw in Nicaragua, one thing will stand out most.  
I'll never forget the one woman, who in the middle of my retinoscopy, while staring 
straight ahead,  nonchalantly popped out a breast and started breast-feeding.”  
Audrey Nguyen
 
“What an eye opening experience it was to visit the Health Center (Centro de Salud) in 
Nicaragua.  It reminded me of what I had seen in rural India (very similar).  In the Centro 
de Salud, they have the most basic of systems.  The pharmacy had amoxicillin, 
erythromycin, and bactrim for antibiotics.  That’s it.  They were low on the most basic 
anti-hypertensives.  Their laboratory could do urinalysis, pregnancy tests, and complete 
blood counts and no more.  I was heartened by meeting the director.  She seemed 
genuinely interested in helping any way she could.  Hers’ must be a difficult job, being 
limited by limited resources.”  Bruce Fischer
 
“This year's mission was very rewarding in many, many ways.  I felt more helpful and 
hopeful.  Thanks to Henry Mendoza, we met the local Centro de Salud medical director, 
Dr. Clarissa Vivas.  She was positive and supportive of our mission.  This short informal 
trip helped to provide access to the health care system for some of the most needy of 
patients.  Thanks to Henry, one child with severe bronchiolitis, one adult male with 
acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and one uncontrolled 
diabetic woman with a blood sugar over 600 will receive the necessary follow-up 
care (just to name a few).  Additionally, preordering medications that were consistent 
with the Centro de Salud pharmacy proved to be especially useful and less worrisome.  
The leftovers were a great bonus for the local physicians.  I loved how helpful the medical 
team was.  I would love to see such a team at home.”  Lynn Normand
 

“It was Thursday and our final day at the clinic site.  I just finished another exam and took a moment to catch my breath.  The endless flow of patients over the previous days was starting to take a toll on my thoughts.  The cool morning air had already been swept away by the hot afternoon sun.  My mouth was dry like the sands of a barren desert.  I wiped the sweat from my brow only to be replaced by another film of perspiration.  My body was running on the last bits of juice I could muster.  Lifting my eyes, I took a glance around the room to survey the faces of my fellow VOSH members.  I could sense their weariness similar to my own but we all knew one thing.  The finish line was just over the hill and quitting was simply unacceptable.   It was our collective spirit which keeping this motor running.  Breaks over.  Next patient.”  Ken Warburton

 
“My most memorable experience with a patient was a man in his 60's who walked with a cane.  
He was almost blind in one eye due to advanced glaucoma, and couldn't see with his other eye 
without correction.  We gave him a pair of bifocals, and asked him to return in two days so we 
could recheck the pressure of his eyes and give him some glaucoma medications for his good 
eye.  Upon returning, with a twinkle in his eye, he asked us if it was at all possible to get a pair 
of glasses just for distance because the bifocals caused him to fall down the stairs -- and this is 
a man who already walks with a cane!  I told him we'd be more than happy to give him two 
separate pairs of glasses and he was overjoyed.  After explaining dosage of his glaucoma meds 
and stressing the importance of taking them several times, he got up to leave, telling me that 
G-d would look after us and he would remember me forever.”  Larah Alami
 
“There were many more memorable moments and I made a lot of new friendships. I thank you 
all for having me participate. It was very tiring at times but well worth all the hard effort on 
everyone's part. I'll see you all next year.”  Stephen Burney
 
“This year was my third mission and I have to say it's the people of Nicaragua that touch my 
heart that make me love this country. I had two experiences with locals that did this. The 
first touching moment was a day where I helped a lady out with glasses. I did nothing special 
I just gave her a pair of glasses and she smiled said "gracias" and left. Sometime later that day 
the woman returned and through the translator told me "thank you very much for your kindness" 
and put her hand in mine and gave me a small present. It was a gold hook; something that one 
of us would have on our luggage and would threw out if it fell off. This was her gift to me and 
she had a big smile on her face. I knew how much this gift meant to her and realize that in 
Nicaragua that's probably the equivalent of being given a nice watch or even a car. The most 
touching moment was on the last day; two girls who were around the age of 11 who had been 
visiting me all week at the dispensary. On the last day I gave them a few articles of clothing 
and they were hugging me non-stop. I'd walk a few feet to leave and they would run up and 
give me big bear hugs. I felt like crying because they were both beautiful girls and I thought 
what their lives would be like if I could take them home to live with me in the US. They could 
have all the material things they wanted, a home, a TV, as much clothes as they want etc.…
However the one thing all Nicaraguan's have that money can't buy is love, respect, dignity and 
family. They're very proud people and very giving of what little they have. I love Nicaragua 
and its people and can't wait until my fourth mission next year. I love all the friendships I have 
made with the people of VOSH.”  Jenny Atwood
 
“Lee Arnold came to find me amidst the dirt and the wheelchairs to see a little boy, about 9 
years old or so, with Erb's palsy (a brachial plexus injury).  This little boy was wearing a splint 
that would have worked had he been about 20 years older and 120 pounds heavier.  As things 
were though, this little boy's hand was getting contracted and he had no active movement in 
it whatsoever.  Using the one roll of fiberglass casting supply that we had (well, there were 
two but the first one fell victim to the Nicaraguan heat), the one ace bandage in Joe England's 
bag (meant to be used in case any of us got hurt), and the innards of the old splint that the boy 
came in with, Lee and I made an upper extremity resting splint...and the little boy ended up 
being able to wiggle his fingers.  Because of this splint, there is now a possibility for this boy 
to gain some function in his right hand.  Not bad, not bad at all...nerve regeneration today, 
tomorrow the world...”  Amy Beauchemin
 

“I knew from day one at the clinic that I wanted to come back next year.  This was my first mission and I was amazed in so many ways by what I was witnessing.  I had never been a part of something so powerful and life changing before and it hit me hard.  Working with the mobility clinic and giving people the gift of a wheelchair or walker was incredible.  Here we take for granted that if we can't walk that we will get the appropriate equipment we need.  There I saw the elderly, amputees, and children carried in arms, hobbling around supported by family members or carried in while sitting in plastic lawn chairs.  We were able to help many people, but there were so many more waiting as we ran out of wheelchairs.  It was really difficult to see the need in front of us and not be able to help.  (Luckily, in March, the Rotary club of Masaya will be getting another shipment of chairs to help out those we couldn't.)  As a physical therapist on the trip, I got to work closely with the medical team and was impressed by their untiring dedication to the hundreds of people seen every day.  I treated acute/chronic back and neck pain, acute/chronic knee injuries, frozen shoulders and two people who had had strokes.  It was frustrating at times because I usually get to have multiple visits with patients, and here I had one short visit and wasn't sure how much of an impression I left.  But there were other times when I knew I had made a difference.  I was moved to tears by one woman, who was so grateful to have a walker that she blessed me and thanked G-d repeatedly.  She was amazing.  There was also a gentleman in his 90's who was 2 years post-stroke who was so happy after I gave him some strengthening exercises that he asked me to take a picture with him and bring it to him next year.”  Beth Bagley

 

“I really enjoyed playing with the children and occasionally understanding the language.”  Amanda Seidler

 

“This year was extra special for me because I shared the experience with my daughter.  It was like my first mission...seeing it through her eyes.  This is such a beneficial experience for people of all ages.”  Sue Seidler

 

“I have been on several missions, but this one was different. The group was really together. 
There were rare times when the different groups stayed bunched, but over all we mingled 
and mixed, and got to know each other better than ever. I look forward to being with you 
all again.”  Lee Arnold
 
All the Nicaraguan people we deal with are all so grateful for what we all do.  You never 
here a complaint from them, even if they have been waiting to have a tooth filled for over 
six hours.  It was a great feeling for all of us working in the dental department.  Patients would 
present with these large cavities in their front teeth, and we all knew without treatment these 
teeth would be lost over the next few years.  Can you imagine being twenty years old and not 
having front teeth?  After restoring these teeth we would hand the patient a mirror to see the 
final result.  I only wish I had photographs of their expressions of gratitude.  Each and every 
person would thank us, and say G-d would bless us for our good works.  I feel that we help the 
Nicaraguan people, but not nearly as much as they help us feel good about what we do.”  
Frank Casarella
 
“On the third day of the mission while I was working with my patient, I overheard part of case 
history of a seven year-old child that Kirsten van Baarsen was examining. I picked up that 
during the translation some important details were omitted. The mother of the child was trying 
to explain that the child had a difficult time seeing after the sunset. She also mentioned that 
the child's father as well his a cousin have the same problem.  At first, I was somewhat 
skeptical that somebody so young can be affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa (editor’s note: 
a blinding eye disease with no known treatment) to that degree of severity. After the dilation, 
our fears were confirmed: This child's retinas were like textbook pictures of RP. It was hard to 
explain to the mother the nature, severity and possible outcome of this difficult condition. We 
gave the mother the name of the local ophthalmologist, some bottles of vitamins and a 
promise that we would like to see him during the next mission. Can we do better/more next 
time?  A humble silence for now.”  Hernando Alfonso

“One of the experiences I won’t forget was on the first day. The second patient I had that day was a 50 year-old woman. She had been having trouble reading for over four years (she told my translator that she couldn’t read the bible and the newspaper anymore), but at distance everything was just fine. She had some headaches and dry/itching and burning eyes (who didn’t, even I had burning itching eyes and I had just been there for two days). After some testing she needed a mild distance correction, but a greater one for close up. The retinas looked fine and so I prescribed her a pair of bifocals and a separate pair of reading glasses for her sewing and handwork. When I showed her with the trial frame, what the “new” sight looked like, she began to cry.  She was my second patient on my first day—can you imagine what an impact it had on me. For 15 minutes I wasn’t the tall blond blue-eyed guy from Holland, I was just a small little fellow, who had the privilege to go to optometry school. She was so happy. She told my translator that we were a gift from heaven. What more can we say?  That’s the best compliment you’ll ever get.”  Dennis Smit

“This year I was able to extend my stay in Nicaragua by an extra week prior to the Nindiri 
mission.  During this time I did some traveling, took some Spanish lesions, and even had a 
chance to volunteer a few days with another VOSH group in a different part of the country.
Everywhere I went, I encountered local people who received services, or had family
members or friends who received services from groups like ours.  A family I stayed with 
for a few days received eye exams and glasses from a VOSH group from Connecticut.  I 
meet a woman selling jewelry in a market who received her glasses from another group 
of "gringo" doctors.  My Spanish teacher's brother has multiple sclerosis and received a 
wheelchair from us in La Conception 4 years ago.  This year I realized that, although we 
are only a single group that runs a clinic one week a year, there are many other groups 
like ours doing the same thing all over the country.  It is a reassuring feeling to know that 
Northeast VOSH is a part of a much larger humanitarian cause, and all together our efforts 
have an effect on a nationwide scale.”  Rocco Robilotto
 

“I really enjoyed the good people of Nicaragua and all the good people of our group.  It was a very memorable and enjoyable mission.  Thanks to Amy Beauchemin for saying I reminded her of Bruce Willis (we'll check your eyes next mission.)  So on future missions if Jon Wasserstein can go by Juan Carlos- you all can call me Bruce!  I must say so that although it's only January, this mission has been a highlight of my year that will be very hard to surpass for the rest of the year.”  Doug Weiss

 

2012 Panama & Tennessee | 2010 Nueva Esperanza | 2009 Nueva Esperanza | 2008 Nandaime | 2007 Monimbo | 2006 Nandasmo | 2005 Catarina | 2005 Mus | 2004 Nindiri | 2003 Jinotepe | 2002 Ticuantepe | 2001 Monimbo | 2000 La Concepción | 1999 Masatepe | 1998 Niquinohomo | 1997 Lake Yohoa | 1996 Jutiapa | 1995 Omoa | 1994 Vera Paz | 1993 Coatepeque | 1993 Salama | 1992 Chimeltenango | 1991 Chichicastenango | 1990 Comayagua | 1989 San Manuel | 1988 Omoa | 1987 Santa Rosa

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