Humanitarian Mission Brings Health Care to Caribbean Countries
By Kathryn McConnell
WASHINGTON - For more than half his life, 11-year-old Ches Lacallo, of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, suffered from an abnormal growth in his right eye, making it difficult for him to see. Other people felt uncomfortable when looking at him.
Now, after simple surgery provided by medical staff from the U.S. Navy ship Kearsarge, Lacallo has been given a chance for a better life.
The USS Kearsarge is the primary facility for the Caribbean phase of the humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2008, a collaboration of the United States, partner militaries and nonprofit groups. The ship's facilities include four operating rooms. Volunteer medical specialists with the Virginia-based nonprofit Operation Smile provide free reconstructive surgery to patients with cleft palates and cleft lips.
"[Lacallo’s] appearance is completely different now. He's going to be a much happier person, and his life is going to dramatically improve," said Brian Alexander, a Navy optometrist from Virginia.
Alexander said the Continuing Promise strategy is to build trust with other countries in the Americas and to provide the services of medical personnel to people who need such assistance.
In addition to performing surgeries, Continuing Promise medical and dental personnel see patients for such things as tapeworms, tooth extractions and eye exams.
Personnel disembark in order to help the citizens and local communities of the countries they visit. In the town of Betania, Nicaragua, staff members taught children about dental hygiene and performed dental exams. Other staff members built classrooms for trade schools; one is for women to be trained as seamstresses. Mission engineers even constructed play equipment for local children.
Continuing Promise personnel delivered much-needed sonogram, endoscopy and EKG machines to the hospital in Puerto Cabezas. (Sonograms are used to monitor pregnancies, endoscopies are used to diagnose digestive-system disorders, and EKGs are used to measure the electrical activity of the heart.)"
The entire community is eternally grateful" for the medical care and other help provided by Continuing Progress, said Miguel Dennis, a tribal leader in the indigenous community of Tuapi, north of Puerto Cabezas.
Celestina Padilla, director of the health center in Waspan, another indigenous community north of Puerto Cabezas, said the new equipment at the hospital provides residents with modern diagnostic capabilities for the first time.
After leaving Nicaragua, the Kearsarge visits Colombia, Panama, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
The first phase of Continuing Promise, earlier in 2008, was headed by the USS Boxer operating in the Pacific.
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