PUBLISHED: 5:05 PM on Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Ketchikan health professionals volunteer in El Salvador
There is an old story about a storm and a beach full of stranded starfish. It's overwhelming. How can you help them all? The answer, of course, is that you can't; but for a few starfish - you can work wonders.

Almost eight years ago, a few years after the end of civil war, Eleanor Gilmore began a mission that is helping work wonders in El Salvador. She is Sister Eleanor, a member of the order of the sisters of St Joseph of Peace, affiliated with PeaceHealth, a multi-facility Northwest health care system.

Photo by Marty West-White
  Cindy Hellerstedt, an LPN and mission volunteer and Kathy Garcia, the manager of the El Salvador Health Mission.
Twice a year, PeaceHealth employees volunteer to travel to communities in El Salvador to set up general medical, eye care, and follow up clinics. Kathy Garcia, the manager of the El Salvador Health Mission for PeaceHealth, was in Ketchikan recently to meet with potential volunteers at Ketchikan General, a PeaceHealth hospital.

About 25 people from the United States make the trip each time joined by another twenty volunteers in El Salvador. The entourage includes general medical physicians, pediatricians, gynecologists, optometrists, nurses, and pharmacists along with a team of interpreters, photojournalists, and other support personnel.

Between 2,000 and 2500 people are seen at each week-long clinic. Kathy Garcia says they see a lot of people with eye problems, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders, and stress related problems. Some people have wounds from the civil war that ended almost twelve years ago.

Kate Vikstrom
  Clinic activities in El Salvador include eye exams.
Over 175 PeaceHealth employees have participated in the El Salvador mission and Kathy Garcia says the volunteer waiting list is several years long. She said other organizations have been critical to the program's success. Most medicines are donated from the Catholic Medical Mission and through Johnson & Johnson. Al Con contributes eye care supplies and the Lions Club gives about 5000 pair of glasses through their charity that collects used glasses for redistribution.

The next mission to El Salvador will be in early February. Emergency Room Doctor Karl Richey and Radiology Technician Rita Fahey will make the trip from KGH. Ketchikan General Hospital is the Alaska branch of PeaceHealth which also has hospitals, clinics and regional laboratories in Washington and Oregon.