El Salvador – Day 4: Up the Mountain to Tepecoyo

What a day we had in Tepecoyo. Our convoy of three buses headed out along the same road we travelled yesterday until we took an abrupt left and headed straight into the mountains. Lush vegetation bordered the narrow road as it meandered up the mountain. We felt as if we were entering the Amazon rainforest! Needless to say, the scenery is stunning here – what a beautiful place.

Speroway Team Leader Dr. Tony Brown discusses the day with the local Mayor.

We climbed for several kilometres until we came to the village of Tepecoyo where we were again greeted by several hundred locals patiently awaiting our arrival at the school. Several hundred more were on their way, on foot, from other villages further up the mountain and would arrive in three hours. Yes, it was a very busy day.

As if to make up for yesterday, it was the Medics who had to deal with tiny rooms this morning while the Dental team reveled in more space than they could possibly use – the school auditorium! I wrote part of this blog post at a desk at the front of the stage! (If my words are more dramatic than usual, you’ll know why.)

I planned to introduce you to several of the first-timers in this post, but circumstances conspired against us. In Tepecoyo, we were exposed to so many compelling stories, we wanted to share some of them here. I’ll pick up our newcomer introductions tomorrow.

Where to begin? Let’s start with Dr. Channy Muhn, a world-class dermatologist who is a veteran of Speroway trips to both Central America and Haiti. He diagnosed a serious Squamous Cell Carcinoma lesion on the left hand of an 83 year-old woman named, Jesus. The growth had penetrated deep into the area and needed to be removed. With help from Paramedic Ron Sonoda and Channy’s translator, Rodrigo, the procedure was fast, clean and efficient. Once Channy checked that all the cancer had been removed and then cauterized the wound to stop the bleeding, he pulled in skin from around the site to close. Jesus patted my knee through the entire procedure – so grateful that we were there to help. Otherwise this surely would have gone untreated.

The mother daughter dental team of Dr. Donna Brode and Kristen DeMarco expertly filled cavity after cavity for Keny, a 20 year old woman. All front four teeth were affected and would ultimately have been lost without today’s treatment. No front teeth at such a young age is almost impossible to contemplate for us – but it’s a fact of life here. That’s why we come.


Medic, Debra Dowson, discovered a rare birth mark running the length of a 7 year-old girl’s right leg. It’s called Klippel-Trenaunay and it’s not your everyday “surface” birth mark, but involves the deep and superficial tissue causing enlargement of the leg known as hypertrophy. Over time, the affected leg grows faster and bigger creating a fundamental imbalance as the other just can’t grow at the same pace. After consulting with Channy, Debra laid out a long term treatment plan including orthotics.

Dr. Jack Cottrell and Endodontist Dominic Delle Donne teamed up to save the smile of a 33 year-old woman name Soledad. In the chair, she pointed to a painful area at the front of her mouth and Jack immediately diagnosed an abcessed lateral incisor. If this had happened any other time in her life here in El Salvador, extraction of the tooth would have been the treatment – that is if she had access to a dentist. But because Dominic is an experienced Endodontist, a root canal saved Soledad’s tooth. Now there’ll be no gaping hole in her smile for the rest of her life. We’ve been lucky to have Dominic and his skills on this and many previous trips. He’s in the business of saving teeth, not pulling them – a new experience for our patients here.

And the serious cases just kept coming. Respiratory infections requiring inhalers; large, open wounds needing pressure dressings; a man whose left eye was lost to cancer now facing skin cancer in the same area that will be fatal if not treated; a young girl with terrible burns to her right arm; psoriasis covering a man’s back; a metastatic tumour in the salivary gland – and the list goes on.


Add to that the incredible efforts of our Pharmacy and Distribution teams who patiently power through hundreds of patient interactions every day completing the process that the Medics and Dentists begin. We treated over 1,000 patients today. We were struck by the number of serious cases – some tough ones were treatable – sadly, others were not.

We’re clicking on all cylinders now and working at peak efficiency, maximizing the number of patients we can see. Tomorrow we’re off to the coast for a clinic at the Remar orphanage. It’s sure to be another long but rewarding day. I’ll post an update when we’re back safely in San Salvador. Until then, thanks for following along, it means a lot to the team.



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