Doctors who help world's poor face restrictions in U.S. - abc27 WHTM

Doctors who help world's poor face restrictions in U.S.

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Local doctors and nurses traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras in October for a surgical mission with the World Surgical Foundation. abc27 news photojournalist Jon Eirkson and reporter Kendra Nichols traveled with the team for five days. The following is Part Three of their In-Depth series.

Dr. Domingo Alvear is back in the United States and in the operating room at Harrisburg Hospital, performing surgery on a little boy with a hernia.

"I feel at home here," Alvear said. "It's quite different from the Third World."

In Honduras, the rooms were small, equipment was outdated, and they were running out of room.

"When you have three babies in one bed or they are all close together, not enough nurses to take care of the sick babies ... and you see in the emergency room where the moms have to ventilate their babies," he said.

Such images don't exist in the U.S.

"I think that we here in the U.S. are just extremely lucky to have all the resources that we have," Alvear said.

Here, rooms are filled with the best equipment. In Honduras, even latex gloves can be a luxury.

"There are hospitals that don't have enough resources," said Dr. Christian Caicedo, Administrative Director of Emergency Services for PinnacleHealth Services. "They actually take the surgical gloves, wash them and disinfect them and repackage them and reuse them. Hospitals can't afford to buy gloves which we throw out here like it's nothing."

"He is ready to go home," Alvear said of his young hernia patient. "Unlike there, they are still in pain and have all kinds of problems. Usually they stay for three or four days ... but here they can go home in about 12 hours."

In the recovery room, Alvear's patient is being comforted by his mother. The room is quiet because here the patients get pain medicine, something they can't always afford in Honduras.

That's why Alvear started the World Surgical Foundation. But why do they focus their attention outside the country? The same laws that protect us can get in the way.

"There are state mandates and legislature that prohibit us from going to practice medicine in other states," Caicedo said.

"To give you an example, in (Hurricane) Katrina, if you were a doctor and tried to volunteer your services there, you can only mop the floor. You can't really take care of patients," Alvear said. "If your tried to take care of patients and you are from another state, you can liable for anything. It's a shame."

Alvear will be 70 years old soon and is close to retiring. So, what's next for the World Surgical Foundation and the people around the world who rely on its help?

"We don't know where we are going from here and I'm hoping that many people will recognize what we do and they'll continue on with the project," Alvear said. "They're making an impact on the world and we need to have more of this."

Alvear also performs dozens of free surgeries in the United States every year, but he and the doctors and nurses who travel with him have a heart for others around the world. The next stop for the World Surgical Foundation is India. They will be leaving in January.

For more information on the World Surgical Foundation, visit www.worldsurgicalfoundation.org.

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