Lejeune sailor assists fellow physicians

6 Aug 2002 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Imagine your child is playing in the yard while you are in the kitchen getting something to drink. Suddenly, you hear him scream. As you sprint to his rescue, you notice a large snake slithering away from where your child is sitting. Would you call 911 for an ambulance to rush him to the hospital? What if there was no 911 or ambulance?

That is the case for habitants in this remote area of the Amazon River Basin.

"Paraguay's medical care is very basic," said Lt. Juan V. Crespo, general medical officer for Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.

Crespo and 14 Marines visited Paraguay for the riverine phase of UNITAS 43-02 July 13-28. The exercise was designed to foster improved interoperability and relations with Marine and Navy forces from Paraguay and Bolivia.

Crespo, of Coconut Creek, Fla., did his share to aid the mission by providing medical assistance and supplies to the doctors here.

"(The hospital) only gets medical supplies once every two months, so we really have to ration what we give out," explained Paraguayan Dr. Mario Raúl Enciso.

With a patient base of 9,000, the medical staff here sees about 350 people per week, including civilians and Paraguayan troops. The staff consists of two doctors, 10 nurses, one dentist, one pharmacist and a cook.

Occasionally, a medical specialist from Paraguay's capital, Asuncion, will come to help the doctors. By boat, Asuncion is an hour and half away, but by car, it's nearly six hours. Because a large portion of the road to the capital is unpaved, red clay, rain can make the roads slippery and treacherous.

"In an emergency that the hospital in Puerto Rosario isn't equipped to handle, they have to improvise a way to get to Asuncion, where the medical care is more modern," explained Crespo, a University of Miami graduate.

Enciso, who has practiced medicine for more than 25 years, said most of the injuries he sees during the week are minor, such as lacerations, fractures of the arms, legs and ribs, and head wounds. 

"Their hospital is comparable to a well-stocked (Battalion Aid Station)," stated Crespo. "One of the only differences is they have an X-ray machine."

The hospital faces several other challenges as well.

"We still struggle with the prevention of diseases because most of our patients only come in when they are seriously ill. We see a lot of cases of tuberculosis, diabetes and leishmaniasis (caused by blood-borne parasites)," said Enciso. "There's only so much medicine we have, so some people go without until we can order more."

A small supply of surgical supplies forces the medical team to reuse most of its equipment, such as surgical needles and latex gloves. Only after a thorough sterilization process are these items used again.

Crespo brought a box full of supplies from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to donate to the hospital, and he spent a few days assisting Enciso and his team during several surgeries, including an emergency caesarean section.

"We really appreciate everything the United States has given to us because surgical tools are very hard to come by here," said Enciso.