Kids' Doc Helps Redeem the Future
By Larry Lang
Special to American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Dec. 16, 1998 U.S. troops here were among the first to aid storm victims when Hurricane Mitch hit in November. Now that the initial emergency is under control, they've shifted their attention to the future of Central America.
That future includes the region's children, and one closely involved person is Dr. (Maj.) James McLane, a pediatrician from Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He recently participated in a medical readiness exercise here with a Wyoming Air National Guard unit and is working with the Joint Task Force-Bravo medical element.
"I was sent down here for the hurricane relief effort. It just makes sense to have a pediatrician here," McLane said. He estimated about 70 percent of the medics' patients have been children and pregnant women.
According to McLane, they are trying to see as many kids as possible and to sort out those who require more guarded care. "We try to focus on who needs to be referred to the Ministry of Health -- cases such as malaria, pneumonia or malnutrition," he said.
For McLane, the professional challenge of being the only pediatrician with MEDEL is the lack of follow-up care. "I don't know if the patient gets better or if they don't," he said. "They don't get routine checkups. It's remarkable they actually grow up healthy."
In addition to treating young patients, he also trains medic Pfc. Antonio Cartagena, a medic with the medical element. "This is the first time I've traveled to a Third World country, and the experience has been great. I get to see many types of cases I wouldn't have in a hospital setting," Cartagena said.
"I'm teaching him how to be the eyes and ears for the doctors and how to use his resources to assist the doctors," McLane said. "He's learning how to assess patients and send the information needed back to the doctors in order to help them."
McLane sees 60 to 100 patients a day.
"This is why I stay in the Army. If I were a civilian doctor, I would be making a lot more money, but I'd never see cases like this," he said.
[Larry Lang is assigned to the Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs Office.]