Dr. Roberto

When Dr. Roberto walked into the Centro de Salud, you noticed. Everyone did. Even among a brigade of lab-coated doctors and volunteers, he stood out as the man who quietly took charge of the situation. It didn’t matter what the day brought—corrupt federales barking up the wrong group of volunteers for a bribe, a lesson on how to deliver a baby without a hospital, or enjoying homemade tortillas and posole  while conducting health interviews in private homes. Dr. Roberto steered the ship.

It helped that Dr. Roberto’s six-foot, broad-shouldered stature towered over almost everyone. It also helped that he had a friendly face and an infectious smile—and that he knew how to use them. They helped soften his no-nonsense commands to set up the patient intake table here, la farmácia over there, and a quiet area for psychological services out back.

Even with exams in full swing and the line, dozens of patients long, moving right along, it was hard to lose sight of Dr. Roberto. If you did, it was because we was taking a rare break.

On these occasions, you might find him squatting to pet a stray dog, making kissing noises at the pooch and paying no mind the mud squishing onto his tennis shoes like chocolate frosting on a cake.

Or, you might find Dr. Roberto sitting on a tree stump, smoking a cigarette, baseball cap turned backwards and a plaid shirt and jeans peaking out of his open lab coat. He’d be contemplating the sweeping mountain views before him. Or perhaps simply enjoying a few moments of well-deserved rest.

Typically, a Tia brigade would leave Guadalajara before dawn and travel by van for several hours on the first day of a trip. They’d rush to their first community, set up for consultations, and help as many people as possible in the few short hours allotted.

Then, Dr. Roberto would give the order to pack up and head to town where the group would teach skills like splinting broken limbs with things you’d find around the house and how to recognize and treat dehydration. All who want to learn are welcome.

On these trips, some of the brigade returned again and again, while others had no idea what to expect.

Dr. Roberto’s first brigade was years ago, and he was hooked ever since. Most communities Tia visits see a doctor once a year or less. All the communities have a Centro de Salud, but these small, spartan clinic rely on unpaid medical students who travel around to serve many communities. It’s community service, required as part of medical education.

Roberto loved it. “Most students hate it,” he’ll say, if you ask him. “But I’d rather be out here in the dust and mugre, where people need us, not in an office.”

Nine years after his first brigade, Dr. Roberto is Tia’s Medical Director and boots-on-the-ground coordinator in Guadalajara. And we couldn’t do any of it without him.

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

Rosie

The Tia Foundation’s first Supervising Promotora

“The day I first met Rosie, I was sitting on a bench eating a carnitas taco, taking a break from scouting El Reparo for a potential brigade trip.” Said Laura Libman, Tia’s founder, CEO, and president. “She asked me if I needed help.”

“Necesitas ayuda?” said Rosie.

After talking for a bit, Laura revealed why she was in town and asked Rosie if she’d attend a class if the brigade came to teach one in the town center. Rosie grinned. Of course she would.

Several months later, Rosie graduated at the top of her class. From then on, she’d be a Supervisor Promotora and health leader in her community.

But that was just the beginning.

As Rosie spoke with the other mothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters in her community, she realized there was a gap in her current ability to help them.

Verduras?” said one woman during one of the weekly sewing circles Rosie hosted. “What vegetables? The only good produce around here is in Sayula. It’s too expensive. And who has time to make the trip?”

Access to nutritional foods is a serious problem in rural Mexico. Most breadwinners work as subsistence farmers or cattle workers for large ranches, but fresh produce is often hard to come by for individual families. Most people can’t afford a car or the time it takes to ride a bus into town—if there’s a bus to take. Coca-Cola and Takis corn chips are much easier to come by, so they’re staples in many homes.

When Rosie went home to her own family that night, she pondered ways to get more nutritional foods into the bellies of her neighbors—as well as her own husband and four children. She thought about it all week and finally, just before it was time to greet her sewing circle again, she got an idea and presented it to her friends minutes later.

“We’re going to get more vegetables to El Reparao, and we’re going to start right this minute,” she told them.

Rosie laid out plans for a community-run co-op. Her sewing circle would embroider gorgeous table clothes and bed linens together each week, just as they’d done for years. Once the sewing circle had enough crafts, they’d ask designate someone in the community to drive into town and sell them—then use those funds to buy fresh groceries and distribute them among the sewing circle.

Soon, more families wanted to join the co-op too, even those without skilled embroiderers in the family. People could donate their time to help sell the crafts, money to help buy supplies, or their cars as transportation.

If you’re ever in Guadalajara, take a day trip to Sayula some weekend. You may find some of the co-ops delicate handywork to take home—and help this entrepreneurial Promotora prevent malnutrition, diabetes, and heart disease in her community, one verdura at a time.

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

Belinda

Belinda

The line of patients stretched out the door. People held scraps of paper in their hands, waiting for their numbers to be called.

Belinda’s petite figure, dressed impeccably in slacks, button-up, and boots, immediately stole the room. She’d pinned her long silver hair up under a wide-brimmed hat. She smiled as she entered the clinic, her genuine joy radiating throughout her face in perfect, concentric lines.

There was no way to tell Belinda’s exact age. She didn’t remember when her birthday was. What everyone present could see, however, is that her beauty had not left her as youth had, but happily remained in her bright eyes, wide lips, and sun-pinked skin.

After waiting her turn, Belinda sat to give her name, answer some health questions, and have her vitals taken. She told Tia’s volunteers she’d had headaches for a few months and last night she’d had a nosebleed.

Tia volunteers took Belinda’s temperature and heart rate, but it was her blood pressure that sent alarms through the brigade: 181 over 115.

Belinda never got a numbered sliver of paper, but instead moved immediately to an exam room to lay down. Brigade members quickly moved in and out of the room, periodically consulting Tia’s medical director, Dr. Roberto Martinez.

Dr. Roberto’s prescription was captopril, a medication commonly used in emergency situations because it could quickly coax a person away from hypertensive crisis. Belinda swallowed the pill and laid down to wait.

But Belinda’s headache continued and her blood pressure stayed put. Another pill was produced and swallowed.

When a third pill became necessary, Dr. Roberto spoke quietly with the brigade pharmacist, a volunteer from Phoenix.

“How much captopril do we have?”

“Just the one bottle,” she said, pulling it from her pocket. “And there are only a few more pills inside.”

Dr. Roberto grimaced. “Keep that bottle in your pocket and don’t give them to anybody but me.”

Hypertension is a common problem in the rural areas of Mexico. For a community largely comprised of farmers and ranchers, fresh produce was notoriously difficult to come by. When fresh vegetables were available, family cooks typically salted them heavily.

Still, a life lived high in the mountains had probably served Belinda well. Elevation tends to lessen the severity of high blood pressure.

“How long do you think she’s had high blood pressure?” said the pharmacist.

“A long time,” said Dr. Roberto.

Three captopril later, Belinda’s blood pressure finally began to drop. The smile returned to her face.

There was talk among the doctors about making room in the vans for Belinda. There was a better clinic down the mountain a bit in the town of Zapotitlan de Vadillo, where the Brigade would teach medical care classes to people from several local communities. Unfortunately, with that much captopril in Belinda’s system, traveling to a lower elevation could bring her blood pressure down too far.

Instead, the brigade made room for two local women who planned to join the afternoon class. They’d volunteered to return with more captopril and other medications that evening.

That afternoon, the brigade taught the Promotores how to handle hypertension emergencies—and how to prevent them.

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

I Heart Tia Events 2019

PicsArt_02-13-02.48.24.jpg Last week the Tia Foundation hosted events in San Francisco and Phoenix, our Founder formally announced her dream of reaching a million people by 2025.  To kick off our push to realize that dream, the proceeds from the two events will be used to benefit a healthcare project this spring and hire one more full-time doctor… maybe 2!  When we finish crunching the numbers and speaking with the potential candidates, we will give more details.  Stay tuned!  We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of both events.  So many people and businesses came together to show support, gave numerous hours of free time and donated what they could to bring healthcare to thousands of people in underserved regions of Mexico.  The Tia Foundation is truly grateful.  Thank you!