Health care group to serve in Nicaragua

DOVER-FOXCROFT — The sick and injured will travel miles on foot or by boat to get the medical help that a group of northern Maine health care professionals plan to provide next month in the outback of Nicaragua.

In April, a group of people employed at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, Eastern Maine Medical Center and Northeast Imaging of Bangor will administer health care in the Central American country for two weeks, as volunteers under the auspices of Partners in Health. Three of the volunteers will be accompanied by their teen-age children, who will contribute to the experience.

Partners in Health, a small, nonprofit organization started by Dr. Robert Bach of Dover-Foxcroft and his late wife, Nancy, has sent tons of donated medical equipment to Nicaragua. And over the years, Bach and others have volunteered their time and effort to establish and operate small hospitals there.

For those who have made the sacrifice, the work is richly rewarding. “When we witness their beautiful faith and acceptance of their difficult lives, I feel they give more to us than we give to them,” Bach said Monday.

While this will be a repeat trip for Bach and his wife, Gail, it will be the first visit for others. Dr. Paul Templeton, a radiologist at EMMC, will spend a week training medical officials, and Edward Bezgembluk of Northeast Imaging will spend two weeks teaching Nicaraguan medical officials how to operate the ultrasound machine his company donated. Accompanying Bezgembluk will be his son, Adam, 16.

Mayo Regional Hospital chief executive officer Ralph Gabarro, Seth, his 17-year-old son, Manuel Blanc, 18, of Barcelona, Spain, an exchange student who lives with the Gabarro family, and John Bozin of the hospital’s maintenance department, intend to do whatever needs to be done at the mission hospital and clinic. “I’m thinking about paintbrushes and hammers,” the elder Gabarro said Monday.

Gabarro said the trip would be a very maturing experience for the teen-agers in the group. “We just don’t realize how fortunate we are in America,” he said.

Also volunteering their services for two weeks will be Karen Brooks, an anesthetist at Mayo Regional Hospital and her son Devon, a junior at Central High School in Corinth. Brooks, who has taken Spanish for three years, will serve as his mother’s interpreter.

“I have heard about his [Dr. Bach’s] trips and I’ve been wanting to be a part of it for five years,” Karen Brooks said, during a recent interview. Like others in the group, Brooks and her son each had to pay $1,500 for the trip. In addition, Brooks and another anesthetist purchased some medical textbooks written in Spanish that will be donated to Nicaraguan health officials.

Brooks said she recognized that she would be “stepping back in time” administering anesthesia at bare-bones hospitals and clinics. “I’ll probably see equipment I’ve never seen and I’ve been an anesthetist for 22 years,” she said. Brooks has been told, she said, that there is little hospital recovery time for patients, so physicians must have them “street-ready.” Those who do remain overnight in a hospital are cared for by family members.

For Devon Brooks, who plans to assist Dr. Bach, it will be an opportunity to determine if medicine is his future.

Bach said the group will spend a day at a teaching hospital in Managua and then will go to the East Coast where work will be conducted at the Hospital Nuevo Amenecer Enfermera, which translates to New Hospital Sunrise Nurse in honor of the late Nancy Bach.

From there, the Maine group will travel to a small clinic on the boundary of Honduras-Nicaragua where they will conduct surgery. Bach said many of those who will visit the clinic would have infectious diseases. He said it is not unusual for someone suffering from a ruptured appendix to travel two days by boat to get medical treatment at the clinic.

“People will often praise you for your work but nothing is as rewarding as hearing, “Cuando regresan usted [When are you coming back?]?” Bach said this week

As with previous trips, Bach and his counterparts have solicited donations of medical equipment and supplies to be shipped to the country. Packing the materials for shipment is a job Jill Grant, an EMMC employee, undertakes. One large container of medical equipment was shipped out earlier this month and when enough financial contributions are received, a similar container will be shipped, according to Bach.