Matagalpa, Nicaragua — By Shermakaye Bass, Editor and Reporter
Early Monday morning, April 16, they began arriving at Fara Clinic in pairs and small groups, then in droves. Men, women, old and young, all share two things: They are extremely poor, and they’re in dire need of treatment for severe varicose vein disease, a common problem among laborers who stand for many hours a day on their feet, six and seven days a week. This type of veinous disease also occurs frequently among women who’ve had multiple births but not a lot of medical attention. And over years, the untreated veins in their lower legs bulge from unrelieved pressure — no medication, no compression socks, walkers and decent crutches rarely an option — creating small ulcerations at first, then graduating to full-blown infections that can take over the entire lower leg, the veins swelling and twisting like a subcutaneous snake spreading its poison.
One elderly woman’s right calf has become so misshapen that it appears a pineapple has sprouted beneath her skin. Yet Dorotea Talavera is so grateful for the help that she actually smiles during the examination by Dr. Steven Reeder and his visiting team. She’s hoping for good news, hoping she can get back on her feet soon. Her condition has been worsening for many years, the initial injury occurring more than 30 years ago. And now it’s led to this. Dorotea just wants to be ambulatory again. Long ago, she became inured to the pain.
Well before Fara Clinic began this particular mission on Monday, patients were aware of it. The clinic staff spent weeks advancing the news that Dr. Reeder, a vein specialist from Dallas, would return for his fourth visit to Matagalpa (Monday, April 16, through today, April 20) in less than two years. Some are return patients, and many more are first-timers. They have hobbled their way to the clinic on ancient hand-made crutches, navigating the hilly streets of this fast-growing city, or employing “canes” carved from tree limbs. Some have been escorted, arm in arm, by friends or family who wait patiently to see the doctor, even if they’re last in line and it takes all week for them to get in.
Inside, the Reeder “brigada” is ready. The Reeder Brigade. That’s what Fara Clinic’s staff call the medical mission led by the generous vascular surgeon, whose Reeder Vein Institute in Dallas typically treats far less life-threatening venous disease. Reeder’s team of six has brought with them the laser equipment and “foam injection” supplies needed to unblock the veins — and, hopefully over a period of weeks or months, bring down the swelling and dry up the ulcerations.
Word of mouth has spread like wildfire, and as usual there are more people in need than the Brigade has time to see this week. Those patients will come back in late July when Fara Foundation hosts another vascular surgeon — Dr. Nick Morrison of Arizona, who will bring a team of 35 to help as many as 400 people in a single week. The Morrison team will use both the clinic and the regional hospital facilities for treatment.
This kind of intensive work is essentially triage, explains Dr. Reeder. “In some cases, we just have to do what we can to make them more comfortable, because the conditions have grown so bad.” In most cases, the infection can be stopped, however, clearing the way for a better quality of life.
Reeder’s team consists of seven members: Himself, his wife Ly Reeder and their son, Douglas F. Reeder; Dr. Reeder’s assistant from the Reeder Institute, Khoa (Kevin) V. Le and his son Alexander V. Le; and close Reeder and Farahani friends David Wynne and Molly Tokaz. On the first day of the mission, La Brigada saw 20 patients. The second day, another 25. And so on — the number increasing slightly every day until the mission ends this afternoon.
It’s impossible to calculate how many limbs would have been amputated without these kinds of concentrated missions, says Dr. Nelson Lugo, Fara Clinic’s director, an MD and specialist in public health and epidemiology who has worked in France, Spain and his native Nicaragua.
“The patients who come in for treatment during these missions are so grateful to even be able to see a doctor, much less find relief from their pain.”
For most, their immediate hope is to be able to sleep at night. But the dream is that they can eventually become more mobile again and resume their work waiting tables, cleaning houses, making and selling tortillas, fixing cars, operating vendor carts on the street, picking coffee, or simply caring for a houseful of children.
For so many of Matagalpa’s underserved, the step through Fara Clinic’s glass doors this week is literally their first step toward recovery.
(EDITOR NOTE: Look for our more detailed blog about the Reeder Brigade’s mission early next week, as we calculate specific data on the number of patients reached. As always, we encourage our readers to donate and support our work at Fara Foundation. Thank you!)