It's been a very busy week this week, and I'll talk more about that in my next post, but before we move on from Tumaco, I need to share this with you. At the end of each country, we have a country wrap-up where each of our LOOs (Lines of Operation) get up in front of a group of about 200 or so filling the mess decks, and shares what was accomplished in each country. It's always a special time, but this time, we were told about two young boys. . . Rather than me telling you about it, let me share the story with you through the words of CDR Mark Marino, our Director of Nursing Services:
"We were able to do a lot of good things in Colombia that made everyone feel good about the mission. But the highlight was caring for Eduardo and Andreas.
They both came from six hours away to get help. And because they didn't have a place to stay until their surgery date, we brought them aboard the ship the first day and they stayed with us until we pulled up anchor 10 days later.
Eduardo was a toddler when he was home alone (mom is a prostitute and dad is in jail for drug trafficking) and he knocked a candle into his bed. He sustained severe burns to the whole right side of his body and he lost his right hand. When he was five years old, mom discovered that he could make some money begging because of his burns and missing hand. So he was pushed into the streets as a beggar. He went from relative to relative and then was abandoned and homeless at the age of eight. Fast forward through four years of homelessness and he is picked up by the Colombian equivalent of Social Services and placed in foster care.
Andreas was living under a bridge with his family when he was five. A car driving by flicked a cigarette off the bridge and onto his shanty setting it ablaze. He and his brother and sister sustained severe burns to their bodies. I don't know if it was stigma or cost of care, but they too were abandoned and have been in foster care for five years now.
Both boys came aboard to have their scars revised. Andreas (on the right) had limited range of motion to his neck because of the scarring. Eduardo could not completely close his right eye and that side of his mouth was in a permanent droop because of scar tissue.
This is where the fun begins! Neither kid had experienced anything like this. They came aboard on a helicopter and then the staff treated them like their own. Over a week, we took them all over the ship. They sat in the Captain's chair on the bridge and spent the time looking through binoculars the wrong way at all of us b/c we looked miniature! They thought it was hilarious! We got them into our flight tower where they talked on the radio to some of our flight crew and got to watch the helicopters lift supplies off the deck. They had no idea what to say on the radios so they just kept saying "hola" and our Spanish speaking pilot would answer back w/ a question only to get a "hola!"
I took them up to our galley where Eduardo was enthralled with all of the drink fountains. He had 3 separate drink glasses on his tray and drank 5 different sodas and juices. They ate so much ice cream, I thought they were going to pop. They played games with the staff, regularly had meals with us in the galley, and were just the greatest kids. Eduardo commented to his social worker that he never before felt so important or loved as he did on the ship.
A bunch of my nursing staff went up to the flight deck to see them off and both boys were crying and saying that they didn't want to leave. Heart breaking but also rewarding in that they had a week where they were just normal kids with no worries about their next meal or bed. And they got to do and see some really cool stuff that just about any little boy would love. It was a privilege to be there for them."
The people of Tumaco were gracious hosts and it was a pleasure to have been able to meet them and work together with the Ministry of Health to meet some of the medical needs of these people. We provided over 65,000 healthcare services to over 16,000 people in the 10 days that we were in Tumaco. Additionally, we were able to perform 247 surgeries from cleft lip and pallet repairs to forming an ear for a young lady who was born without her right ear! It's amazing to see what happens to radically change people's lives!
As I write this entry this evening, we have already arrived in La Union, El Salvador and are hard at work in the "Land of the Volcanos!"