A makeshift clinic in the rural mountains of Honduras had more than one similarity to Dr. Jim Rice’s busy Annapolis pediatrics office. Earaches for one.
“Ear infections are universal,” Rice says. “You see parents whose child hasn’t slept all night. That’s the same. …
“Parents have many of the same concerns. Are they eating enough? How’s their weight? It was more like my pediatrics office than not.”
Well, except for the surroundings.
Rice does not, for example, typically sleep on the floor, work in a building with no windows, or ride to the office in the back of pickup truck.
Rice and his 17-year-old daughter, Kate, have an uncommon story to tell about how they spent their summer.
The father and daughter traveled to Honduras with a group of volunteers, mostly medical professionals, in late June through the Towson-based nonprofit, Organization for Community Health Outreach (OCHO), which provides health care to the rural poor in Central America.
Rice’s patients were impressed by the project, says Tammy Turner, who handles community outreach for Annapolis Pediatrics, which posted Facebook updates about the pediatrician’s travels.
“Dr. Rice has such a following,” says Turner. “He’s just a phenomenal doctor. … And word spread quickly about his trip.”
In less than two weeks, the office collected six large crates of school supplies and diapers, 50 carseats and 20 strollers donated by patients’ families.
“I could see it being used immediately,” says Rice, an Annapolis father of five who has been practicing at Annapolis Pediatrics for 17 years.
He was also able to treat some patients with immediate results, from ear infections to gastrointestinal maladies. One 7-year-old girl stands out, Rice says. Her parents were convinced that she had a brain tumor, but the large bump on her head was actually a common fungal infection.
It was particularly gratifying to be able to say, “We can fix that,” says Rice. “With those cases, you felt an instant impact.”
But the medical volunteers also treated more chronic conditions, including asthma and malnutrition, and progressed conditions such as heart disease.
“That was the hardest to see,” says Rice, who treated a 14-year-old boy who wanted to play soccer and whose heart defect could have been repaired at birth if he had been living in the U.S.
A typical day was like the “busiest” in his Annapolis office. “But it was good, and there were no insurance forms,” Rice says.
Annually, OCHO arranges a trip to Honduras with about 50 volunteers every summer. The groups of medical professionals — usually including pediatric doctors, nurses, internal medicine physicians, obstetric gynecologists, ophthalmologists, podiatrists, and dentists — and students, who serve as translators, travel to Atima and remote areas in the mountains nearby.
A local elementary school serves as a clinic, where as many as 3,000 patients can be treated in a week, says Dr. Ken Tellerman, a Baltimore pediatrician who has been going on the trips since 1999, after a hurricane devastated the infrastructure of the Central American country.
“It’s definitely not a luxury trip,” Tellerman says. The volunteers sleep on floors, use portable toilets and shower under a hose with a cold trickle of water. They also pay $1,500 for the privilege, covering their own airfare and the cost of some equipment.
Working with the Rotary Club of Baltimore, OCHO has set up a water filtration system for the area, serving 7,500 people.
“We recognized that to have real impact, we’d have to do things to change the conditions,” Tellerman says. The nonprofit has also donated equipment for a new medical clinic and is raising funds for a facility for developmentally disabled children.
The donated car seats were used to help position children with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders. The strollers help transport those children, who, otherwise, are carried by their parents everywhere.
“It’s a really underserved population,” Rice says. “It’s how America was 50 years ago.”
Because Rice has many Spanish-speaking patients whose families are from Central America, he says his trip helped him understand their background. “It gave me more perspective where they’re coming from,” he says.
The trip to Honduras was not the pediatrician’s only summer travels. He also spent a week at a South Carolina beach with his family. But Rice is already planning to return to Honduras next summer, though this time with his second-oldest daughter.
“Her sister has asked if she can raise the money to come, too,” he says. “I think [the trip] had a big impact.”
For more information, go to ocho.org
More about Volunteering in Honduras
More about Honduras