Posted by: calloftheandes | April 20, 2016

Mission Hospital Doctors Answering Desperate Plea for Help in Quake Zone

Medical team: (l to r) Steve Nelson, Joe Martin, Hugo Espejo, Paola Pérez, Jack Peña

Medical team: (l to r) Steve Nelson, Joe Martin, Hugo Espejo, Paola Pérez, Jack Peña

After ascertaining the safety of its own staff, Reach Beyond immediately assembled and dispatched a medical team to respond to people’s needs in an area of Ecuador devastated by Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake on the country’s coast.

Four Quito-based physicians—two Ecuadorians and two expatriates—arrived Tuesday April 19, at Hospital Juan Carlos Guasti in Atacames, where “the hospital is receiving a lot of trauma patients,” according to missionary Hermann Schirmacher, a Reach Beyond missionary.

Schirmacher, whose disaster response team in 2012 responded to flooding in Ecuador, said he was tipped to Hospital Guasti’s need by Radio Station’s HCJB’s Edwin Chamorro after Dr. Paola Perez of Atacames had written the news broadcaster.

“More than anything, traumatologists are what we need,” had written Perez in an email. She detailed how coastal dwellers “with lots of wounds, bone fractures, and other injuries” had come for help, saying that patient care was “collapsing” for lack of specialists.

The quake’s epicenter was located approximately 15 miles south-southeast of Muisne and about 105 miles from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Infrastructural damage occurred in the port city of Guayaquil with the collapse of buildings and a road overpass. Landslides in Ecuador left more than 10 roads closed. Operations at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport were temporarily interrupted. In Manabí province, the cities of Pedernales, Portoviejo, Cojimíes and Manta endured significant damages.

Police, firefighters, Red Cross, working hard in the recovery of bodies in Pedernales. (used with permission of Diario La Hora)

Police, firefighters, Red Cross, working hard in the recovery of bodies in Pedernales. (used with permission of Diario La Hora)

A state of emergency remains in effect in six provinces of Ecuador’s western lowlands: Esmeraldas, Santo Domingo, Manabí, Guayas, Los Ríos and Santa Elena. While authorities have cleared some blocked roads and restored power and water, affected provinces may not have basic services or supplies.

The medical team took shape quickly due to the quality of the staff to choose from at Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ), a Reach Beyond facility, and the mission’s experience in disaster response. The four-person crew consists of an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jack Peña; emergency physician Dr. Hugo Espejo; and Drs. Steve Nelson and Joe Martin, both family physicians.

After helping trauma patients at Atacames, the team plans to explore opportunities in Ecuadorian towns farther down the coast towards the quake’s epicenter, including hard-hit Muisne.

Nelson has accompanied Reach Beyond medical teams to Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti (Peña followed on a later team), Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan and Solomon Islands, many times in disaster response.

Martin has done medical caravan work in Burkina Faso and Ghana as well as Ecuador. On many trips, Nelson’s wife, Dorothy, has offered children games and the gospel as their mothers waited to see a physician. Often the medical caravan team sees 200 people in a day, frequently in underserved communities in remote areas.

“I was asked to help out at 3 in the morning,” wrote Perez to Chamorro, a longtime news director at the Quito radio station. “They came to take me to an area south of Esmeraldas, and I was the only doctor who answered the call. In [government] health ministry cars we went toward Muisne and Chamanga—really total disaster there. Chamanga is in ruins. I write because I’m sure that HCJB and Hospital Vozandes will organize something.”

Passionate about clinical skills and hands-on medicine, Nelson—who turned 70 last August—says graduates of the HVQ medical education residency program have launched assistance initiatives as well. Dr. Jose Luís Vivanco, who served with Nelson in Ghana, is forming a team from among co-workers at the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social (Ecuadorian Social Security Institution), according to Nelson.

Another graduate of the HVQ residency program, Dr. Susana Alvear, plans to accompany a medical team from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, the leading private university in Quito. Like Vivanco, she has accompanied missionary physicians on different occasions for medical caravan work, including one held in an impoverished state of India.


  1. […] the 28th Jornadas Médicas (Medical Conference) in Ecuador preceded by less than two months a 7.8-magitude earthquake that left some 660 people dead and thousands wounded. Hundreds of buildings in two provinces were also flattened, including a […]

  2. Thank you, Ralph. God bless you!

    Shirl Lee Huscher

    Office: 719-388-2291
    Cell: 719-660-0369

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