Sonia Waldikia González Barahona, 39, waited more than a year for a surgery after she was diagnosed with an incarcerated umbilical hernia. Swollen belly, sharp abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting were part of her daily symptoms.
As her pain increased, Sonia, a mother of three, had to quit her housekeeping job. After months of waiting, her surgery was cancelled because the hospital didn’t have an anesthesiologist.
Her life however changed on November 2, when U.S. Army personnel assigned to U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) and Honduran medical personnel received her in surgical room No. 4 of the Leonardo Martínez Valenzuela Hospital. Sonia became one of the many patients under the care of Continuing Promise 2022, a SOUTHCOM humanitarian mission in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The mission, a SOUTHCOM’s Enduring Promise initiative, reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the people of the Americas.
“This is a great opportunity; thank God these medical brigades organized by the United States come and help us for free, because sometimes we wait and wait for medical care but there is no solution,” said Sonia from her surgical bed. “I had heard about the brigades, but for the first time, it was my turn. I am calm and happy because I am finally having my surgery.”
U.S. Army Colonel Doctor Kenneth L. Wilson, 256th Forward Surgical Section surgeon, JTF-Bravo, was one of the doctors in charge of Sonia’s operation.
“My mission here is in support of the U.S. Army helping the citizens of Honduras. We are creating relationships by working together. As a surgeon specifically, I am working to help take care of the patients and we are also bringing supplies that may not be available in Honduras,” Col. Wilson said. “It’s challenging, and at the same time, exciting and humorous because I’m learning names of surgical instruments in Spanish and they correct my pronunciation, which I do appreciate, but it’s an example of what has to happen if there were an actual war event where we have to overcome those types of shortcomings.”
Next to him was Honduran Doctor Ludin Martínez, third-year surgical resident of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, who performed the surgery. “This is a great experience to share the operating room with doctors from the U.S. medical brigade. It’s a great learning opportunity and I am very grateful for it,” Martínez said. “I have worked with JTF-Bravo missions before in Comayagua, but this is the first time with the Continuing Promise mission.”
Doctor José Samara, Strategic Management Board coordinator at the Leonardo Martínez Valenzuela Hospital, was grateful of the opportunity presented to Sonia. “Normally patients […] have to wait sometimes one or two or three years before they can be operated on, and obviously the medical brigades greatly decongest this type of service. For example, the hospital could operate on one or two hernias a day, but they have maybe 700-800 patients waiting.”
Honduras is the second of five countries where Continuing Promise 2022 is bringing medical, dental, and veterinarian care; subject matter expert exchanges, as well as Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) initiatives, among other events. This is also the mission’s sixth visit in the country.
“Hondurans are putting a tremendous amount of faith in the Continuing Promise mission. I saw U.S. military, civilians, health providers, host nation security, and all these other participants working very hard to live up to that trust that Hondurans are putting in our mission,” said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Douglas Sasse, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, from a medical site in Tegucigalpita, Honduras.
Rear Adm. Sasse visited different events under the mission, participating, among others, in a discussion with community leaders about gender-based violence at a WPS symposium in San Pedro Sula. “The Continuing Promise mission is helping people immediately in so many ways, but it’s also educating and connecting those people with the government and other aid organizations that are going to be here, long after the mission leaves. This is our enduring promise to our partners in the region.”
At Plaza de las Banderas in San Pedro Sula, members of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) organizations, Honduran National Police officers, Honduran firefighters, as well as Honduran service members and their U.S. Marine Corps counterparts took part in a HADR seminar.
“This training is very important for us. We are very grateful to SOUTHCOM and the U.S. government, because they not only support us in these activities, but their contribution is integral to the response to emergencies and disasters in the country. It is fundamental because we also have the presence of the country’s civil and military institutions with which we coordinate the emergency response,” said Armando Juárez Prieto, national director of Preparedness and Response of the Honduran Permanent Contingency Commission (COPECO). “We coordinated several activities, including livestock care in emergency situations, a simulation of a flood event for response planning, and a water rescue evacuation exercise in a river.”
As for Sonia, she is recovering at home and grateful for the outcome. “They took good care of me. When I woke up, the doctors were with me to see how I was doing,” she said. “Thanks for the medical brigades, by God; I had been fighting for months to have my surgery. Thank you for the work you come and do in our country.”