Caregiver Brigade

Dozens of Nicaraguans lined up to be seen by the medical brigade last year. This will be a scene with which two local nurses — Mary Jo  Sievers and Lyn Anderson — will become familiar with as they are part of a group of medical professionals who will hold clinics in the country Feb. 10-18. - Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Sievers
Dozens of Nicaraguans lined up to be seen by the medical brigade last year. This will be a scene with which two local nurses — Mary Jo Sievers and Lyn Anderson — will become familiar with as they are part of a group of medical professionals who will hold clinics in the country Feb. 10-18.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Sievers

The warm smiles — that’s what Mary Jo Sievers can’t wait to see again.

Oh, and the babies. Their faces were unforgettable.

“It’s indescribable the feeling you get helping these people,” said Langley resident Sievers.

“They are so appreciative of everything we do.”

The people whom Sievers is referring to are the hundreds of men, women and children who she and other medical volunteers helped treat during an eight-day medical mission last year to San Ramon, Nicaragua.

The medical mission teams — often given names such as the “Good Medicine Brigade” or the “Healing in His Name Brigade” — are led by Maple Valley resident Tanya Amador and her husband, Nelson.

This will be the third year the Amadors have gathered a team of medical volunteers to hold clinics at the Corner of Love Ministries and at outlying villages in Nelson Amador’s native Nicaragua.

The Amadors founded Corner of Love Ministries with assistance from their church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley. The San Ramon ministry continues to receive support from this church and others in the area, and now boasts a soup kitchen, preschool, vacation Bible program, health clinic and provides resources such as school supplies.

Sievers and fellow South Whidbey resident Lyn Anderson will be a part of the next medical mission group of 33 health care volunteers who will travel to Nicaragua Feb. 10 to 18.

And they’d like South Whidbey residents to be a part of their effort.

This will be the second trip for Sievers.

She was a part of the brigade last year, along with her daughter Crista Langstrom,

a nurse practitioner in Woodinville.

Sievers and Anderson have been friends for 25 years, having first been neighbors in the Woodinville area. Anderson works as a nurse at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland. Sievers is now retired, but spent five years as a registered nurse. She was previously a teacher, which she said lends itself to the work she does with the medical brigade.

Sievers felt driven to be a part of the brigade as a way of paying honor to her daughter, 22-year-old Lori Sievers, who died July 2003 in a fall at Grand Teton National Park.

“Laurie was a Spanish minor at school, she’d spent a semester abroad in Ecuador, and she absolutely had a love for these people,” Sievers said.

“There’s no question she’d want me to help them, and I wanted to do it in memory of her,” she said.

Last year’s trip is still vivid for Sievers.

The team spent two days holding clinic at the Corner of Love in San Ramon before spending travel days journeying out to the villages of Yucul, Wasimon and El Jobo. They’d travel for miles by bus before setting up the clinic on the spot that same day with two medical exam areas, four dental stations, a triage interview area and a pharmacy.

Each day the group of medical workers would wake early for a 7 a.m. breakfast in San Ramon before hopping on a bus at 8 a.m. to be shuttled out to the village clinic.

Each medical brigade trip brings along a varied group of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, dental hygienists, interpreters and volunteers. Unless they are able to find sponsors to foot the bill, each volunteer must pay for the trip themselves.

Last year the brigade saw an average of 200 patients a day, ranging in age from newborns to people in their 70s. Often whole families are treated at a time.

“People would walk for miles, many times in their bare feet, to get to the clinic,” Sievers said. “There were so many of them they’d often have to wait for hours before we could see them.”

And when the people didn’t arrive by foot, risking injury by stepping on sharp objects, they’d ride a run-down bus that was so overcrowded that many would ride by clinging to the outside. Some came to the clinic with burns from the bus tires.

Sievers said that many of the villages were little more than shacks with dirt floors. Sanitary issues were always a problem, which led to many of the ailments suffered by the patients.

“Most of these families live on a dollar a day and do what they can to grow their own food,” Sievers said. “There were always chickens and pigs running around, and they’d even come into our clinics.”

Many of the villages do not have enough clean water for drinking, if any water at all, so the villagers have to travel for miles to bring it back to their villages.

“It was hard seeing where they lived because you couldn’t imagine living that way,” Sievers said.

Sievers said the people were a “very grateful, wonderfully warm people,” and that the Nicaraguans who volunteered to help run the clinics proved indispensable.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Sievers said.

Except for a few minor dental surgeries such as extractions, the volunteer medical staff performed only routine care and check ups. Much of the time was spent treating minor cuts and infections and distributing countless doses of anti-parasite medication, cold medicines, allergy medicines and antibiotics.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them fingernail clippers to use to help stop the spread of parasites that can grow under nail beds,” Sievers said.

Sievers’ daily duties in the pharmacy saw her on charge of the sorting and distribution of thousands of doses of medicine, toiletry kits and other items.

To be able to help during this year’s brigade trip, a medical supply drive is currently underway for the team. Locally, people can drop of items and donations at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland and St. Hubert Catholic Church in Langley.

As far as donations go, the medical staff can make the most use out of cash donations because they are able to purchase medical packs of thousands of doses of medicine at a fraction of the cost.

Just as valuable are the countless over-the-counter medicine and toiletry items that the teams distribute.

“They use everything so sparingly, so every little thing goes a long way,” said Tanya Amador.

“We had one woman come back six months later and show us the tiny Hilton hotel shampoo bottle that she still had saying ‘See, little left,’” Amador recalled.

Sievers said that she and the other volunteers quickly fell in love with the charm of the people during last year’s trip and felt driven to give them back their health.

“It’s a simple life there. When people get sick or injured they go for weeks, if not months, that way because medical care simply isn’t available,” Sievers said. “If babies are born healthy they are lucky. If not, they often don’t survive.”

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