FARA CLINIC, MATAGALPA, NICARAGUA —
By Shermakaye Bass, Fara Foundation editor
It’s known as “the Big One,” or “El Grande,” and its impacts are big in every way. Lives are forever changed during this annual vein-care brigada, both for patients and medical professionals. Over the past six years, thousands who suffer from peripheral vascular disease have received treatment through Fara Clinic, and numerous vein specialists have benefited from sharing information and new technology. And it all happens here in Matagalpa.
“This has become a convention, a real gathering for experts in leg ulcers and wound care,” says Maria Farahani, co-founder and vice president of Fara Foundation.
Like clockwork, every July our largest medical mission of the year takes place under the auspices of Amigos de Salud, Fara Foundation/Fara Clinic and individual doctors and healthcare-givers from around the world. This year, our sixth convocation of “The Big One,” the brigade convenes July 22-28, and the 41-member team consists of medical professionals from Italy, the United States, Nicaragua and Argentina. They specialize in treatment of severe leg ulcers and venous disease — ulcerations and complications from chronic varicose vein infection and inflammation. These dedicated volunteers range from ultrasound technicians and advanced-care nurses, to world-renowned vascular-disorder specialists, phlebologists and wound-care innovators, to translators and transport/logistics volunteers.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for so many of these experts to be together under one roof to collaborate,” Maria explains. “Not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of people who come to us every year during these brigades. That’s the most important thing — the people we get to heal and whose lives we get to change. And we get to watch that change happen before our own eyes!”
She adds that the 2017 one is by far “our largest group since we started hosting (medical missions) at the clinic in 2011. During these brigades, the doctors look at each other’s cases and compare notes, they use different of the latest technologies to heal severe leg wounds. … There are some patients who are so severe that they become a case study for all of the team. It’s that widespread of a problem in Nicaragua.”
Debilitating vein disease is also endemic beyond our borders, and increasingly we see patients from neighboring countries in Central America, as well as people from all over Nicaragua. Patients learn of the coming brigade through radio, television and print-media ads, and they arrive outside our clinic in droves in the pre-dawn hours, waiting to receive care, possibly for the first time in their lives. During this weeklong mission, we see as many as humanly possible.
Last summer, our clinic staff and visiting professionals treated more than 1,000 patients during El Grande, says Marcela Cisne, director of Fara Clinic and foundation administrator. And this year we have the potential to see substantially more than that. In fact, by middle of June 2017, 800-plus new patients had already signed up for care, and we expect many more to show up and wait for cancellations and openings. The majority of them are first-time visitors to our clinic, and most of those will be seeing vein specialists for the first time in their lives.
Spearheading the team this year as usual, are phlebologists Dr. Nick Morrison from Tempe, Arizona (co-founder of Amigos de Salud) and Dr. Giovanni Mosti of Lucca, Italy, two of the world’s leading specialists in venous disorders and peripheral vascular disease. In the coming days, they and our brigade will help heal legions who suffer from this widespread condition, which usually occurs in workers who stand for long hours, day in and day out, farming coffee or working other labor jobs with few breaks. Virtually none of these patients have access to regular healthcare.
As Maria points out, varicose veins in the United States and other “developed” nations is usually a cosmetic nuisance, something for which a patient is treated with compression bandaging, foam injections, ultrasound or radio frequency to remove what are often called spider veins. It’s rarely serious and certainly not life-threatening. According to longtime Fara supporter and brigade volunteer Dr. Steven Reeder, founder and director of the Reeder Vein Institute in the U.S., maybe one or two patients per year will enter his facility with advanced ulceration. Typically, spider vein sufferers in the U.S. and Europe do not progress to ulceration, which can end in amputation or death if not treated over the long-term. But in Central America, few day-workers can afford any healthcare, much less specialized care.
Just imagine the suffering: The years, often decades, of crippling pain and debilitation, and the effects on these patients’ livelihoods. Without treatment, with the disease continuing unchecked, many are unable to work, and as sole bread-winners, they’ve had to sit by helplessly as their loved ones fell into poverty. Medical missions like ours not only can save a patient, they can save an entire family. Among the technologies employed by our team are foam injections, laser and radio frequency treatment; in fact, our latest donated equipment is a radio frequency machine, purchased through a Rotary International Grant organized by Dr. Lorenzo Tessari and Dr. Sergio Gianesini of Italy.
“Last year, one lady who’d had ulcers for years and never had any relief came to the clinic just to thank the doctors who’d helped her the year before,” says Maria. “She’d traveled here just to see them again. She told us ‘my world has changed since you came,’ and she started sobbing. Then we all started sobbing. It’s indescribable, what this feels like, to see someone who’s life we have totally changed for the better.”
Attending The Big One, 2017, are the following people. We want to thank them for volunteering their time, expertise and money to help the people of Nicaragua:
Diana Lynn Neuhardt, Alexandra Houle, Beverly Ann Adams, Dr. Zini Francesco, Dr. Lorenzo Tessari, Carlotta Fabbri, Izabela Jakubiak, Dr. Fausto Campana, Federica Campana, Simone Ugo Urso, Maria Elene Cisne Farahani, Dr. Donald Nicholas Morrison, Therese Ellen Morrison, Jacqueline Ann McGrath, Angela Nicole Martin, Mulugeta Bedasa, Joseph Anthony Zygmunt Jr., Anthony Jakubowski, Susan Jakubowski, Crystal Spaeth, Dr. Andrea Faye Brennan, Joseph John Brennan, Christopher Brian Sullivan, Dr. Hernan Baeza Moreno, Dr. Eric Mowatt-Larssen, Carrie Mowatt-Larssen, Connor Mowatt-Larssen, Emanuela Verrai Leggenhagger, Eunice Estrada, Saskia Handschin, Dr. Kathleen Dorothy Gibson, Harper Elizabeth Kushan, Dr. Giovanni Battista Mosti, Harrison Jay Brennan, Andrew Michael Epstein, Sarah Nicole Coello, Christopher Sullivan, Leila Farahani, Merrie Gay Leidsman, Dr. Joseph Dante Raffetto, Dr. Sergio Gianesini and William James O’Hare.