Sunday, January 31, 2016

Progress at a snails pace

January 24, 2016

In some parts of the world progress moves at a snails pace...or as Don Sergio says, 'poco a poco'.

I am back home now after spending 2 weeks with Sergio in San Cristobol.  It was a rewarding visit finding Sergio well and busy.  Below are some thoughts I have about the state of Sergio's mission.

The Supply Line
Don Sergio is always in need of burn and wound care supplies. He can never have enough gauze, gauze wraps, ointment and gloves. Thankfully, there is a Tucson organization where I can request these items and check them as luggage when I visit him. Also, my medical network seems to come through when I request items they no longer need and a friendly physician who ships me boxes of good, unused supplies from Michigan throughout the year (Thank You, Dr. Beckmyer).

Some supplies I repack as tightly as possible and have friends (Thank You, Alejandra) who visit family in Mexico and postal ship them from Sonora. This system has worked well and supplements Sergio's inventory.  He does have friends from France that send him creams and other items as well.

The Help
L>R: friend of the team, Nataly, Esmeralda, Deborah and Edith.
Edith, is now in nursing school and doing well. She continues to help Sergio on a regular basis. I believe her nursing school is 5 years long and this is her first year. She had recruited a few others students to come help as well and they love it. They love the hands-on care and knowing they are making a difference in their community working along side Don Sergio.

Alfonso also continues to help Sergio. His unwavering admiration and respect is palpable. He has decided to pursue an engineering degree in San Cris and help Don Sergio until his compadre Cesar completes his medical training. Alfonso told me he looks to Don Sergio as a wise grandfather and spends most evenings working with him.
L>R: Sergio, Juanito, Alfonso.
Cesar, El General, is in his second year of med school and is doing well. Only when he is on break is he able to come help Sergio. He says his studies are going well and he is learning so much about medicine and loves it. He will be an exceptional physician!

Newbies: Esmeralda, Deborah, and Nataly. Esmeralda has a permanent smile on her face and is in nursing school with Edith. Nataly is a gymnastic teacher and helps in the evenings as well. She took up running a year and a half ago and has run 2 marathons already...she's a natural athlete.  She usually comes in the top 10 of various races...usually 15 to 42 kilometers. She was there most nights these past two weeks. Deborah is 15 years old and loves to hang out and hand out supplies to everyone working. I love the feeling of camaraderie and family that has developed over the years.

Gymnastic teacher and runner by day, volunteer at night.

Iker has been gone for almost a year now. He's ridden his bicycle over 9000 kilometers and is putting on another 3000 more as he heads to Usuiasia in Argentina.  We still hope for his return one day. We all miss him.
Having gloves, good blades to care for wounds is a plus.
Here we use a bucket for a stool.

Indiegogo Fundraiser
Last year's fund raising was a tremendous help for Sergio. This fundraiser helped support him over the last 8 months. His life is easier because of all of your donors. We plan another Indiegogo this spring. 

The Patients
It is a dream to one day, to find a way to integrate a patient education program...alas..for now, just a dream. Sadly, same conditions, different patients. It seems there is no end. We are making a difference but albeit, a bandaid..speaking metaphorically.  Each patient, young and old, are always expressing their gratitude for Sergio's (and his team's) help. The care they would receive if Sergio were not there, may not be adequate or sufficient to heal their wounds. As I've mentioned before, sometimes its more cost effective for the hospital to cut off the limb as oppose to nurse a wound back to health.  Sergio has nursed many limbs back to life.

Stop here, the following is for strong eyes and stomachs only.

His family brought him in 4 days after the injury.

This photo, left, is the young boy who was accidentally burned with polvora (flammable power used for fireworks). See posting Jan 9th. I cannot paint the picture with words of how quietly and calmly this child sat while Sergio applied vaseline and silver sulfasalazine to his open facial wounds.

Day 15 after initial burn and 11 days of burn care.

Sergio believes when one is calm during receiving wound care, their bodies heal quickly.

We hope all who know and/or who've met Sergio continue to provide support in some way, every bit helps. Stay tuned, we will keep updating the blog.

My nephew Ethan, a pre-med student, joined me this trip. He will do great things in his life!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Buildling schools piece by piece, poco a poco......

One thing we take for granted in the US is primary education, like elementary school. Even the elementary school I went to 43 years ago was adequately supplied, comfortable and we had good teachers. This is not always the case in Chiapas. 

This school room is now being used on a regular basis. The parents of a poor San Cristobal suburb called upon Don Sergio for help to build a school. The government supplies the teachers.

The same room above: before
 During my two week visit with Sergio we stopped by a school he has been working on for a few years. He receives funding from various groups (usually international) and over time he's been able to build one room, then another, then the latrines, etc.  Most recently he has received support from a Swiss group that allowed him to finish a couple more rooms for the school he is showing me today. One, that I have been to several times before. If you look back through this blog you can see the progress of this elementary/primary school.

Outside the room, before: the masonry worker is hand applying the outer concrete/stucco.

Almost completed.

 The schools here in Mexico aren't like ours. They are basic concrete blocks with concrete floors, no AC, no heater, they have windows with bars and a chalkboard. No computers, no projectors, no drop-down screens. The basics at best seems to work. The kids love their schools as do the parents. Costly items are the desks and Sergio seems to drum up the money for that as well.

Completed and in use.
You may ask, why isn't the government building these schools? That question is hard for me to answer. All I can say is what I've been told: the money that is given to build schools is reduced along the way and sometimes, well, very little or nothing gets done. Fortunately, the government does send teachers and pays them if a school is in place. People want action and if there are kids in areas that need a school, the community advocates approach Sergio. Such a different world than ours in the US.

In construction.
Sergio hires workers he's known for years and sometimes pitches in to do the work himself. I enjoy visiting the workers and seeing the progress.
Almost complete. One room will be divided to make room for un biblioteca.

 Posted by Patricia Ferrer, PA-C.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 Some things never change

Advertisements for Sergio's museo. 
After seeing patients all day, if there are enough
tourists, he will give them an unforgettable
cultural and Mayan textile tour. Donations
partly support his ability to do his
humanitarian work.  
Its hard to believe I met Sergio 8 years ago and how little things have changed in his world of wound and burn care. At least as far as patients go: same accidents, different people. Our patients are the young, the old, and everyone in between.

On New Year's Eve a 5 year-old boy, with his 23 year-old uncle from Chamula, were planning to use fireworks and pulvora - literally in English 'gunpowder' -  and somehow it when 'boom'.  Both their hands and faces were burned.  The boy's complete face (excluding his eyelids) has a superficial second degree burn and he looks like a kid from a horror movie. The back of his hands suffered a 1st degree burn in which the superficial aspect of his skin will peel and probably won't leave any scarring. At this point we really don't if he will be left with any facial disfigurement, but his function of blinking, and use of his mouth should be fine. Sergio cleans his face and applies cream and this 5 year-old does not cry. His absolute attention and caring in doing this must have some calming the boy knows Sergio will give him a piece of chocolate afterwards.

The uncle does the whimpering when we change the bandage on his right hand which has a superficial 2nd degree burn. His face suffered a burn equivalent to a chemical peel that many women in the US pay hundreds of dollars to help with wrinkles. His face is recovering very quickly but his hand will take longer.

The older patients have diabetic or venous ulcers we see on a regular basis. The blindness from diabetes continues to amaze me and lack of education for diabetes prevention is sorely lacking (as it is in the US). It also continues to amaze me how people get along with their maladies that interfere with their daily activities of living and their quality of life. They seem to blame no one and accept their fate.

An ornate decoration from one of Mexico's oldest churches in San Cristóbal.

Posted by Patricia Ferrer, PA-C

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My First Day With Sergio - by Ethan Hartman

After breakfast, Patti runs to call a taxi as I wait with the medical supplies that we have gathered for Don Sergio. The taxi takes us to Sergio’s museum, which doubles as his clinic. We unpack the supplies that we need for this morning’s house calls, and we leave almost as soon as we arrive. The taxi driver, a very good friend of Sergio’s, greets us at the door. “You’re late,” Sergio bellows. The two of them laugh and embrace. I receive a handshake, and notice that he has no thumb on his right hand—an amputation? “Me llamo Juanito, mucho gusto” he says with much gusto. “Soy Ethan, es buen conocerte,” I reply with a smile.
The four of us jump in Juanito’s taxi and begin an unexpectedly long journey.
It is possible to tell the generosity of a person by many measures. As we drove through the mountains, I begin to realize the true generosity of Don Sergio, a man willing to pay for a taxi to travel an hour and a half just to change the bandages and clean the burn wounds of a man he barely knew. The roads twist, rise, and fall, as we go deeper towards our destination; the town of Chanal. Patti feels nauseous and I hand her a plastic bag just in case.
I enjoy the long periods of silence between small talk when I just sit and think. I imagine myself living in Chiapas, writing medical blogs or working at Bela’s to pay for my rent. Above all I imagine helping Sergio with his work. I think about Brazil, and how much I long to visit the friends I made last summer. There is something about travel that I find so romantic, it truly is the greatest teacher. Learning a language introduces a new way of thinking, and a knowledge of 3rd world medicine is difficult to get in the 1st world. Maybe I can do all this in my year off between graduation and medical school…
No sei.
Plans are difficult to make in such an uncertain future.
When we arrive in Chanal, Sergio leads me into the home of burn victim, and I see what real 3rd world looks like. An entire family of 8 lives in 2 rooms, with no shoes, no clean water, and few sources of light or heat. One light bulb illuminates the room where a 41 year old man lies, cachectic and moaning. After greeting us with a weak smile, he uncovers himself to reveal his naked lower body. His legs, thinner than arms, are wrapped in bandages, oozing with green pus. My job for today is to hold the LED light, retrieve supplies, and take pictures. As Patti and Sergio take off the bandages, we can see that most of his right leg and half of his left is covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns. This man had gotten drunk and fell into the fire at the center of his home. This story is all too common in Chiapas, and Sergio knows from experience that these wounds take a long time to heal without surgery. As we packed up to leave, I notice Sergio leave 100 pesos for the man on his dresser without saying a word.
The rest of the day is very busy. Juanito delivers us to people with various problems including diabetic ulcers, venous/arterial ulcers, and burns. I am thankful for my strong stomach, because many things we come across would destroy most of my friends’ desire to eat for days. 
After about 8 patients, Patti and I return to Bela’s for lunch; beet soup with salad and pepper empanadas…tan delicioso! After a quick nap, we are off to Sergio’s museum again. Only this time, patients are coming to him. Sergio also has other helpers, an 18 year old man who wants to go to medical school, and two 20 year old girls that are studying to become nurses. I struggle to get into the flow of where everything is, and I quickly become overwhelmed by all of the supplies, and how to get organized. I learn the ropes, however, as Patti scolds me a few times, and I observe how the other volunteers work with the patients and Sergio.
A child with terrible burns to his face from a firecracker accident is brought in by his parents. His face is inflamed and covered in pus. He sniffles slightly as Sergio cleans, debrides, and wraps his wounds, but he does not cry. What a champion. Another kid, who had cut his thumb open and received stitches several days ago, cries and thrashes as if we are torturing him when we take out his stitches. Not quite the same level of champ in that kid. I can’t blame him, I was the same way as a child.
Throughout the night we see infections, fistulas, eczema, ulcers, burns, and scabies. It’s amazing that Sergio can send these people home with some sort of treatment, from a limited amount of antibiotics, to various topical medications and wrappings. It’s great to know that people believe in his work and send things from all over the world. The end of the shift working with Sergio and his team brings a warm feeling to my heart, and I can’t wait to play a larger part in it.
Patti and I leave just before 7pm. I buy us some sandwiches and we walk home. After a quick workout, I head to the kitchen to eat my sandwich and Meli stops me, asking me to help her translate what a man named Jose is asking her. Why she asks me, I haven’t the slightest clue. I probably know less Spanish than she. By the end of our conversation, however, Jose asks for my email, and wishes to stay in touch with me. As I write my email down for him, he expresses interest in my pen, which has a flashlight at the end. I tell him that it’s his, and his face lights up with delight. How wonderful to make someone so happy with such a simple thing. Whether it’s treating a burn, or giving a gift, we can all make a difference.
Patti and I meditate on this before we chow down our sandwiches and discuss the clinical presentation and treatment of ulcers. You know that you are medically inclined when you can eat and look at disgusting photos…

Friday, January 1, 2016

Vistors from Kenosis Spirit Keepers

Earlier in 2015

Spiritual leader Carla Woody, founder of Kenosis Spirit Keepers ( has been traveling to Central and South America over the years leading tours in efforts to educate others of Indigenous traditions that may be on the verge of extinction. Somewhere along the way she met Don Sergio Castro and during her trips to Chiapas, she makes his museo/clinic one of her stops. She has noticed and appreciates Don Sergio's ability to heal wounds by the compassion and care he provides and does not miss an opportunity to share the experience with others.

Ms. Woody gives a portion of her proceeds from her tours to help Don Sergio carry on in his work. Below is a photo of her latest trip to Chiapas in 2015.