By Michael H. O’Donnell firstname.lastname@example.org
May 11, 2014
BLACKFOOT — Hundreds of patients traveled by donkey and bus and camped out for
days to receive treatment for vein diseases in the impoverished Central American
country of Honduras. Among the medical experts waiting to help them were Dr. John
Whiting, his medical assistant and wife, Pam, and their granddaughter, Taushlyn.
The Whitings were part of a one-week service mission in March organized by the
Hackett Hemwall Foundation, based in Wisconsin, that provides medical help in
Dr. Whiting, who is a vein specialist at Bingham Memorial Hospital, said the trip was
his wife’s idea.
“We were attending an international vein treatment conference in Boston and started
looking for vendor information on the Hemwall Foundation,” John said.
“I said, ‘We need to do this,’” Pam added.
John contacted the foundation immediately and set things in motion for the March 22-
29 trip to the Honduran city of LaCeiba. Medical teams were split up to work in LaCeiba,
Tela and Olanchilo. He also did some Internet research on the country, which has been
embroiled in deadly drug trade battles.
“The first thing I saw was ‘don’t go, it’s the murder capital of the world,’” John said.
Undeterred by the danger, the Whitings enlisted the help of their granddaughter, who
is a student at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, and prepared for a weeklong effort to
provide much needed medical care to the underprivileged.
The Whitings have participated in other altruistic endeavors in the past like helping
build homes in Mexico and doing charity work in Guam. But joining the Hemwall
Foundation effort provided them a unique opportunity.
“This was a chance to use our clinical skills,” Dr. Whiting said. “They (the foundation)
have people who fly in from all over the world.”
Working on the team with the Whitings were physicians and other medical experts
from Canada, Venezuela and the U.S. And they were busy.
During the week in Honduras, Whiting said they treated 570 patients — many of whom
were suffering from open sores caused by untreated vein disease. The majority were
women and Dr. Whiting said failure of the veins in the legs is common in women who
have large numbers of children.
“I treated one woman who had given birth to 16 children,” Dr. Whiting said. “Of course
not all of them lived.”
Desperate for medical help, some people traveled for several days and then camped
out in front of converted Red Cross buildings to receive treatment.
“The courtyard was completely packed,” Dr. Whiting said.
But despite the long lines and extended wait, the doctor said the people were
amazingly patient and grateful. They were also dressed in their best clothing.
“It was their way of showing their gratitude and respect,” Whiting said.
Once a patient made it to the makeshift treatment rooms, ultrasound devices were
used to locate collapsed veins and then doctors like Whiting injected the affected area to
collapse the damaged vein and stop non-oxygenated blood from pooling in that area of
the leg that leads to infection.
“We had to decide which wounds were the worst,” Dr. Whiting said. “We had limited
Compared to conditions in American clinics and hospitals, the setup for treatment was
crude. Temporary beds were covered with one sheet that remained in place the entire
day as patient after patient was treated.
Red Cross workers kept the lines organized and Honduran students who were fluent in
English acted as translators. The organization helped keep the medical teams on task as
they quickly treated one patient after another with only a 15-minute break each day to
grab a bite to eat.
“It was an awesome experience and exhausting,” Pam said.
“It is the best experience of your life,” her husband said. “You take that home with you
and it changes your life.”
Dr. Whiting also observed how the entire effort was organized and took notes. He said
he wants to create a similar effort to aid a poor country using the medical staff at
Bingham Memorial and he has the full support of BMH chief executive officer, Louis
The Bingham Memorial Foundation has already agreed to help fund a mission to
Cameroon later this year and Whiting is hoping to organize participation from doctors,
nurses and support staff an BMH. In the future, he would like to help establish a
foundation for these efforts based in Blackfoot.
“It was amazing,” Pam said about the Honduran experience. “Even talking about it now
I get chocked up.”
Dr. Whiting said the team had wonderful people working together in a land where
police walked around with submachine guns and casual walks outside the hospital were
strictly forbidden. It was the shared mission to help needy people that bonded the
“The people became like family,” John said.