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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Volunteers lend a hand at Mexican clinic

    PUERTO PEÇ_ASCO, Mexico – When 10 UA students load into a van, cross the Mexican border and head toward the seaside resort town of Puerto PeÇñasco, it’s usually the bartenders and taco stands that reap the benefits.

    But one Saturday each month, it’s a different story for UA student volunteers from Manos de Ayuda.

    As volunteers for Manos de Ayuda, which exists both as a local nonprofit and a separate student club, UA students assisted American medical professionals Saturday in running a free monthly medical clinic for Mexican children ensnared by poverty.

    Upon first sight, “”clinic”” appeared to be a relative term. A sun-drenched concrete slab hosted a few old trailers, all of which resembled the forgotten remnants of a sand-swept mobile park.

    However, the grounds were revealed as a magnet for jubilant families who came from the nearby ramshackle homes for health care.

    “”I wanted to offer something more than a three-mile walk and a $10 donation,”” said Tony Dumont, a physiology junior. “”That’s cool, but this looks like it can offer a bit more.””

    Jason Yan, president of the Manos de Ayuda student club and a microbiology senior, assigned the students various duties, including administrative tasks and mechanical work, according to their abilities and skills.

    One of the most needed tasks – translation – was given to Corrine Walker, a molecular and cellular biology senior, who also spent the day doing “”intakes,”” or filling out the initial patient surveys.

    “”I like it, going from room to room, taking care of things,”” Walker said. “”You really don’t even notice how busy you are.””

    With so many kids on hand, the need to keep them entertained quickly proved important.

    The young children were more than happy to share crayons and coloring books with Keith Sweeney, a molecular biology freshman, and Steve Schreiber, a pre-physiology freshman.

    At one point, Schrieber received an impromptu Spanish lesson from a young boy, who sketched animals on miniature chalkboards that were passed out as gifts by doctors.

    “”He calls me ‘Gringo Alto,'”” Schrieber said. “”Awesome.””

    Nicole Schertell, a third-year student at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, gets reflex check pointers from Dr. William Troutt, 33, of Gold Canyon while attending to her 9-year-old patient, Isiais. The boy was brought to the clinic by his mother after he complained of irritation in the roof of his mouth. While he’d been bothered by tongue problems since his early years, his tonsils appeared to be inflammed, but the practitioners suspected an allergy and suggested he avoid milk products.

    “”We get more hugs here than we do at home.””

    Among the patients seen at the clinic was 2-year-old Sophia Rebecca Moroyoque, who has mild Down syndrome.

    Her asthma problems had been acting up for more than a week, but the medication she needed was out of reach for her family, at 15 pesos, or about $1.50, per week.

    “”Depending on what they can do for us, I might come back,”” said her father, Felix, a 44-year-old security guard at a resort condominium.

    “”Otherwise we’d have to go to Hermosillo, but a bus ride there costs 300 pesos each way,”” he said through translator Maurice Lee, a first-year medical student.

    Lee said he plans on forming a Manos de Ayuda club at the new UA medical campus in Phoenix, where he studies.

    Physical therapy was a consistent focus at the clinic, as volunteers taught several parents how to perform simple strengthening exercises for their children who had weaknesses in their lower limbs.

    Because the children grew up on dirt floors, many of their parents would avoid letting them crawl, opting instead to carry them until they began walking, Yan said.

    “”It’s not good for their arches and becomes quite painful,”” said Yan, who had lost count of his clinic trips. “”(Flat feet) is a cultural problem, really.””

    To cure that problem, Tucson prosthetician Ron Goldstein and his technician, Arturo Marquez, outfitted a yacht-like RV with a mobile prosthetics laboratory and drove it to Rocky Point.

    When the specialists first began donating their time to fashion the supports and braces the kids were in need of three years ago, they found it time-consuming to load their equipment in and out of trucks, Goldstein said.

    But after the electrical service was cut to the facility after thieves recently stole the valuable copper wiring, the next step for the pair became obvious.

    “”We just said, ‘OK, we’ll bring the mobile lab,'”” Goldstein said. “”We get more hugs here than we do at home.””

    The prosthetic specialists’ benevolence changed the life of 10-year-old Arturo Sanchez that afternoon.

    Arturo, who battles cerebral palsy, walked his first steps ever with the aid of custom-crafted braces, as his mother – and much of the clinic – held back tears.

    “”It’s good work, real good work,”” Marquez said. “”It satisfies us. To help these kids is something else.””

    Molecular biology freshman Keith Sweeney and physiology freshman Steve Schrieber help local kids sharpen their coloring skills during their visit to the Manos de Ayuda clinic.

    Humanity crosses the border

    A good chunk of the clinic’s cases are families who want their kids’ smaller problems checked out while they have the chance. But there have been cases of families moving up from as far as the state of Chiapas, at Mexico’s southern border, said Pamela Lyke-Marquez, co-founder and president of the Manos de Ayuda nonprofit, who is a physical therapist.

    As she prepared a padded table for her next therapy patient, Lyke-Marquez told the story of that child’s young mother, who temporarily stopped bringing her young son in for treatment when he was measured for a wheelchair.

    “”It meant he wasn’t going to walk,”” Lyke-Marquez said.

    Word of the clinic has traveled throughout the continent, bringing in 800 different volunteers from across the U.S. and Mexico, who have together logged nearly 70,000 hours since Manos de Ayuda was formed in 1998, said co-founder and Vice President Steve Marquez.

    Over the years, Manos de Ayuda has brought several children to the United States for specialized medical treatment, including tracheotomies and colostomy procedures, Steve Marquez said.

    “”The hardest thing was the immigration issues,”” Steve Marquez said. “”We had no shortage of willing physicians.””

    Manos de Ayuda has also distributed nearly $500,000 in used medical equipment – from crutches to larger equipment salvaged from Tucson General Hospital when it closed in 2001, Steve Marquez said.

    “”The size of the operation doesn’t matter – this is one person giving of themselves and expecting nothing in return,”” Steve Marquez said. “”When I come across good people like this, I feel like there’s hope for the world.””

    Students and physicians associated with the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe were also on hand to pitch in their expertise, taking vitals and giving some of the more in-depth assessments of patients.

    “”I didn’t expect to be down here doing this so soon,”” said Regina Ewing, a second-year medical student at SCNM. “”This is the way to find out if you have the stomach for this work or not.””

    An iceberg in the desert

    As the last of the 32 patients were seen, the chance to lend a hand served only to reinforce the ambitions of the UA students – most of whom envision themselves as future physicians.

    “”You get to see the improvement of these kids,”” said Nancy Ortiz, secretary of Manos de Ayuda, who had also lost count of her total trips to the clinic.

    While malnourished dogs scouted the perimeter, a battered sedan drove through the neighborhood with a loudspeaker mounted on top, offering bags of vegetables for sale – an advertising method the clinic also uses.

    Boards were nailed to the inside door frames of the clinic as it yielded to the long shadows of the afternoon – to prevent desert winds from blowing them open as Joe Eleid, a biochemistry junior, loaded medical supplies into a pull trailer.

    “”It’s crazy cool. I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg,”” Eleid said of his intent to return. “”If you can’t come down here and be a human being, you have no business being a doctor.””

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