A Good Day in San José Villanueva

by Tim Fallis

Our three buses rolled into San José Villanueva at about 8:45 after a 40 minute drive and we began setting up in the local municipal offices.  There was one massive room for both Dental and Medical separated by a makeshift wall – lots of space but it was incredibly hot!  It was another story in Pharmacy which was assigned a nicely air conditioned (a Speroway clinic first!) but very small office.

Tight quarters in Pharmacy today.

Space to move around is not important in Medical or Dental as each team member has a designated area with chairs for a translator and the patient(s) – there’s simply not a lot of moving about. But in Pharmacy, there are typically six or eight folks packed into a room and they spend the entire day moving from one medication bin to the next picking and packing whatever the patient needs.  They move quickly and efficiently around the room memorizing the locations of the most frequently required meds within minutes.  Unlike the chaos of the Dental and Medical areas, Pharmacy is always quiet and calm.  But don’t be deceived – they’re filling upwards of a thousand multi-medication prescriptions a day.  The team typically hangs what in reality is a “shower caddy” from Walmart on their belts to hold the meds as they’re picked and packed for each patient.  It’s just one small part of delivery system that’s been refined to maximum efficiency over the years.  The Pharmacy team is the best at what they do and is a crucial cog in the Speroway clinic machine.  Despite their tiny room today, they kept pace with Medical, patient for patient, and truly delivered yet again.  Great job.

Jane Charters and Pharmacy Lead Chris Ritskes give emergency care.

Someday, somewhere, each team member is thrust into what we call a “this is why I’m here” experience.  Today was Jane’s day.  Dr. Jane Charters, a family physician from Oakville is on her first Speroway trip.  Right from the start, she’s fit right in, managing the steady stream of diverse patients like an old pro and embracing the Speroway system.  This afternoon, a 21 year old mother brought in her 2 month old daughter to be seen.  Jane immediately saw that the child was seriously ill.  Her fever was dangerously high and she was listless, lethargic and clearly in severe respiratory distress.  The situation was life-threatening – a real emergency.  Jane whisked the child directly to Pharmacy where the team stopped everything they were doing and jumped into action.  Tylenol and antibiotics were administered immediately which the child promptly threw up.  So the key meds were then given by injection and within the hour, Jane was feeling confident that they had acted in time and that the child would recover.  It was very close call and an emotional case for Jane.  She marvelled at the incredible Speroway teamwork and support when she and her patient needed it most.  Welcome aboard, Jane!  

Laura Thomas and San José Villanueva offical
Joining us on this trip is Speroway’s Manager – International Programs, Laura Thomas.  She’s given up her desk job for the week to sterilize dental instruments with Joanna.  But today, she and I took an hour to tour San José Villanueva, particularly the “forest slum” on the edge of town for a first hand look at the desperate need in this area.  Literally 500 metres from the town center is a crude network of dirt roads, many of them impassable by car, lined with mud and tin shacks that are home to the region’s poorest families.  The living conditions are deplorable in an area where unemployment is off the charts.  The lucky ones with work only earn about $6 a day.  
It was an eye-opening experience for
Typical homes in the forest near San José Villanueva

Laura and me but it reaffirmed the need for Speroway’s ongoing support in the region.  In fact, Ken Dick, Laura and the Speroway team are planning the design and construction of a perment Medical/Dental Clinic in this area.  Potential sites have been investigated and contractors are in the process of submitting building plans and estimates.  While nothing is yet confirmed, it’s possible that, for the first time, the 30,000+ residents of San José Villanueva will have year-round medical/dental support.  It’s an exciting plan – stay tuned!

One of the busiest volunteers today was Pedro Duran – the mayor of San José Villaneuva. When he wasn’t helping with set-up and addressing the many last minute needs of a mobile 70 person clinic, he was on the megaphone directing his citizens from the main holding area to the Medical line-up.  Solid, on-the-ground support from local officials is critical to the success of every Speroway clinic – we sure had that today in SJV.  By day’s end, we had seen and treated 823 patients in Medical, a record 220 in Dental while dispensing another 107 pairs of reading glasses.  And everyone went home with a hefty supply of food and clothing.  It was another great day.  Tomorrow, we’re paying a return visit to Tepecoyo up in the mountains.  We had a tremendous clinic there last year but just couldn’t see everyone in need.  Tomorrow’s our chance to pick up where we left off! 
(l to r) Tony Brown, Mayor Pedro Duran, Ken Dick, Channy Muhn

P.S.  At the end of a very busy day, a few of us, including Jane, wandered down the hill to a lovely, rocky river where a woman was doing her washing and several young children were swimming and jumping off the rocks.  In the context of the stressful day we, and especially Jane, had just finished – it couldn’t have been a more perfect moment.



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