It’s a whirlwind two weeks, but for Kathy Nicholson (’98 BSN), caring for needy patients in Honduras makes an imprint that lasts year-round.
Nicholson’s pull to the central American country is strong: together with her husband Edward, a respiratory therapist, she has made five health care mission trips to Honduras coordinated by Torch Missions, most recently in summer 2018.
The experience of providing care in a third-world country is humbling.
“When you pack up to leave and go home, it breaks your heart because you know, I’m going back to South Carolina where I have everything I need, and they have nothing,” Nicholson said. “That’s why we go back.”
The Nicholsons made their first trip to Honduras in 2005. Even before setting foot in the country, Kathy, now a nurse manager at Prisma Health, was clued into the expansive needs as she gathered trip supplies — over-the-counter pain medication, adhesive bandages, triple-antibiotic ointment, toothbrushes and multivitamins — items that Americans take for granted having at their fingertips but are in short supply in Honduras.
Each summer, a group from her church, Palmetto Church of Christ in Columbia, sets up temporary health clinics near the capital city, Tegucigalpa, in abandoned storefronts or schoolhouses. Through word of mouth, news about the clinics spreads, and patients walk with their families for miles and wait for hours to be seen.
“The people are so gracious,” she said. “They are so grateful for a little bit of help. They never complain.”
Nicholson said the mission team has treated an array of health conditions, many of which would be considered pedestrian in the U.S. health system, including infected cuts, persistent coughs, parasites, high blood pressure and allergies. The caregivers also provide services such as demonstrating breathing exercises or checking fetal heart tones in pregnant women concerned about low fetal movement. Patients who need follow-up care are treated and referred to a permanent clinic within walking distance.
On each trip, the team also packs and delivers food boxes with rice and beans to people in a remote mountainous area outside the city and hosts a one-day program for women where they share uplifting stories, complete a simple craft and hand out toiletry bags to improve hygiene.
Nicholson said participating in the trips is gratifying. “I like knowing that I have a skill, and I’m able to use that skill in ways that I don’t use it here,” she said.
Although the country’s needs remain great and are largely unchanged since she began participating in the mission trips, Nicholson says she feels called to return to Honduras and do her part where she can to improve global health. It’s the same approach she takes with her job, knowing that she cannot solve all the patient problems at the hospital but nonetheless pledging to make a difference to every patient who crosses her path.
And, as a nursing professional, she finds value in contributing to the global health care system through the mission trips. “It’s such a big world, and there’s so much missing in the way of health care,” she said. “We all need to learn from each other.”