Central Pa. doctors provide free surgeries to poor in Honduras

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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 Two of Kendra's In-Depth series.

It is early morning at the public hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Patients are lined up in the halls waiting for their operations.

Doctors and nurses with the World Surgical Foundation are preparing several operating rooms, general surgery, laprascopic surgery, pediatric surgery and neurosurgery.

Dr. Domingo Alvear, a pediatric surgeon from Harrisburg, is preparing for his first patient: a two-year-old boy who was born with a rare malformation. The boy's intestine does not connect to his rectum. He was given an emergency colostomy to save his life when he was born.

Now, Alvear will change the boy's life. During the surgery, he will reconnect the intestine to the rectum so the boy can use the bathroom.

“He will be normal, a normal person,” Alvear said. “After the operation he will be allowed to go to school.”

Dr. David Leber, a plastic surgeon from Harrisburg, will be performing several surgeries to repair cleft lips. He has five operations scheduled for the day, and expects to do more than 20 by the end of the week.

One of his patients is one-year-old Ruth. Leber makes tiny marks on her lips to give himself a guide to follow and then begins to cut and stitch – what he calls “connecting the dots” – to give Ruth a new smile.

“Now we are starting to close,” Leber said in the operating room. “This is the muscle that allows you to kiss, so we will reconnect this so she can pucker up.”

After the operation was finished, Ruth was wheeled to the recovery room where her mom was waiting to see her daughter's new face.

“Bueno,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Gracias.”

Holding her daughter in her arms, she thanked the doctor and said, “God bless him.”

Although the doctors performed more then 80 free surgeries during their week in Honduras, they could not help everyone. A walk through the emergency room in the hospital in Honduras was shocking.

The room was overflowing with people, patients were sharing beds, and in some cases mothers were ventilating their own babies because there were not enough machines to go around. The mothers would stand for hours, squeezing bags to fill their babies lungs with air.

A two month old baby, with black fingers, was slowly dying in the corner. Her heat was failing, and was not pumping enough oxygen through her body.

Alvear says that's why they make these trips to third world countries.

“It is the people,” he said with a tear rolling down his cheek. “We are all one people. It doesn't matter where you come from. We have to help each other out.”

Part 3 of this series will answer a question asked by some of our viewers: “Why do these doctors and nurses travel outside the Unites States to help when there are people here that need free surgeries?”

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