The Tarahumara Children's Hospital Fund supports the St. Teresita Clinica in Creel, offering free health care to Tarahumara children.
When Fr. Verplancken, assigned to a parish in Creel in the state of Chihuahua, started ministering to the Tarahumara, he found a community with an infant mortality rate of more than 75 percent and suffering from malnutrition, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.
In 1965 he started a small clinic: eighteen beds for children and five for adults. The purpose was to serve Tarahumara communities. Even at this clinic, which lacked running water and electricity, demand far exceeded capacity, so Fr. Verplancken set out to secure the money to build a larger hospital with water and power.
In 1979 Fr. Verplancken opened Clínica Santa Teresita in Creel, a 75-bed clinic with running water piped in from six miles away through a system he constructed. The hospital, complete with a pharmacy, lab, and operating room, offers adult, pediatrics, dental, maternity, nutrition, and X-ray services. Since 1981 the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul have been nurses, administrators, and service coordinators for the clinic's patients, who numbered more than 5,300 in 2001.
The clinic is the epicenter but not the sole provider of health care in the vast Sierra. Because of the great distances and difficult terrain and the fact that the Rarámuri, as the Tarahumara call themselves, neither drive nor ride horses, health care providers travel to the far-flung communities. The clinic also trains Rarámuri "promotores", community health care workers who return to their villages educated in hygiene, nutrition, vaccination, prenatal care, and prevention and detection techniques.
Fr. Pedro’s latest hospital report (April 2010):
Our team is working wonderfully as always even if we have had quite a few changes. As you know, we had 4 fulltime doctors all year long and 2 medical students, besides the pediatric resident. Now we are searchin for a doctor because one of them just left. We also had some changes among the nurses’ team: 3 out of 5 nuns were changed and two other nurses as well. We are also having some variations in our patients’ ages. Until 2 years ago we had a 2 to 1 proportion in children/adults patients; now our rate is almost 45/55. In 2009 we had a 30% drop in children’s hospitalization numbers. We think this is due to several factors: first, prevention and early consultation (young mothers are more aware of disease symptoms and more confident in our hospital and treatments); second, better drinking water; and thirdly, that the families have to migrate seasonally to Cuauhtémoc or Sinaloa for temporary jobs and they wait until they are back to bring their kids to the hospital.
May be that is why we are receiving sicker children now. I am attaching some statistics that (although abstract) that will give you an idea of the extent and results of our work. Behind the numbers there are real people and real human sufferings and hope. Because of that, I want to share with you some of the concrete stories:
In just 15 days time, we received 4 young children in terrible condition, all of them under three weeks old and less than 4.5 pounds. One little girl (2 days old) had a punctured and infected meningocele (“bifid spine”). Doctors thought that, in spite of the gravity of the situation, she had a good prognosis, so they stabilized her and we sent her to Chihuahua. She is now with us again. We are nourishing and preparing her for a programmed surgery back in Chihuahua. Another child (17 days old) arrived with a brain hemorrhage, convulsions and respiratory problems. She was brought from “Piedras Verdes” in a two day trip (walking and asking for a “lift” in the pick-up trucks that happen to pass by). Unhappily she was diagnosed with congenital neuro-syphilis; the mother was also infected. Also from Piedras Verdes, Camilo was brought by his father. He has a Herpes-Soster infection that affected his vision badly. While they were at the hospital, both were also diagnosed with tuberculosis. They must stay interned at least two months, until they cease to be “baciliferous” (bacilli transmitters).
We also have Angelica, she is 7 years old (4 of those years spent at the hospital). She suffers from the consequences of congenital neuro-syphilis. Her ins and outs at the hospital are due to undernourishment, because she isn’t able to stand up or eat by herself. That is an almost impossible situation for a Raramuri family to deal with. Even so, every time she feels better she asks to go back home. Two weeks ago, we had a little girl and her aunt badly burned because an accident with a pot full of boiling water, and a boy with his whole face burned by fire. Adults usually arrive in a critical state too. Just a couple of months ago we had the death of José Luís from Huetosácachi (nine miles from Creel). He was 39 years old. He died from a meningeal tuberculosis. Right now, we are trying to save María Lucía and Jesús (mother and son), she has ganglionar tuberculosis. His is pulmonary. Both are complicated because of malnutrition.
Gregorio came from Urique (deep down the canyon). He had a severe pulmonary problem that was diagnosed as cancer. He is still fighting although there is little hope for him. Elvira (35 and with several little children) is now interned because of a vascular problem that maimed her for life.
As you can see, the tuberculosis problem in Tarahumara is really critical; it is complicated by undernourishment, due to climatic and bad crop problems, but also by economic situations and cultural traditions or uses (sleeping in the same room and “beds”, drinking from the same vases, etc.) that cause contagion.
But, in spite of all these, we still can say that we are winning the battle against disease and early deaths. From a children’s mortality rate of 75% we are down to 20% (still too high, but a third of what we had 25 years ago). During 2009, we had just 2 deaths out of the 285 hospitalized children and 6 out of the 257 adults – most of them received in conditions similar to those described before. And we are bringing new lives to Tarahumara, too. We were asked by the State’s health authorities to communicate childbirths to the S. Juanito Hospital (because we don’t have an intensive care room) and we have had 6 deliveries in three months. That is because Rarámuri women are usually very reluctant to give birth in a hospital. Out of the very few that seek hospital care, the majority prefer the Santa Teresita Hospital because they know they will be helped only by women and up to a certain extent in accord with their culture and they have learned that, if they arrive almost at the very moment of delivering, we won’t send them to San Juanito… so they manage to do it.
As a side note, but an expression of our commitment with the most destitute people, one of the hospital’s doctors volunteered to go to Haiti to help the victims of the earthquake; she was there for two months, the hospital assumed her work and salary during that time.
Coming to hospital maintenance, thanks to our TCHFs committees’ donations, in 2009 we finished the oxygen producing machine’s installation; now we have a mixed system (tanks and machine) since we are having a huge demand of oxygen. This is mainly because of TB patients and also the fact that in extreme cold conditions the machine can not work at full capacity. Even so, the new equipment has saved us about 15,000 dollars in less than a year. We also replaced the whole water main-system, tanks and main pipes; we changed 3 old/rusted iron tanks with 7,500 gallons for 9 big PVC tanks with a total capacity of 10,000 gallons and built a cabin to protect them. We refurbished two nurses’ houses, the adults’ area bathroom, installed another room for isolated patients, and refurbished the chapel’s roof. Our team installed a new laundry area and reconstructed the old industrial laundering machineby changing some heating systems to more efficient.
Thanks to donations from an El Paso foundation – Aid for the Needy- we refurbished the laboratory and installed a whole hospital-management-system that included the computer program specifically designed for us. The hardware includes the main server, computers in two consultation offices, in the pediatric ward, adult ward, lab, reception and accountability areas as well as three printers. Two Chihuahua organizations, Christus Muguerza Hospital and CIMA Foundation gave us 3 infusion pumps and medical instruments worth about 50,000 dollars.