DANVILLE – When Dena Sawka returns to Honduras on a medical mission next month, she won't just be taking along suitcases of vitamins, medicine and dental supplies.
She will be taking along her 17-year-old son.
Tanner Sawka, a Danville High School junior, plans to accompany his mother, a registered nurse, and about 33 others on the trip to the impoverished country.
"I'm really excited," said Tanner, who hopes to become a Salvation Army officer and work overseas one day. "I've always enjoyed helping people."
The annual medical mission is sponsored by the Salvation Army's World Service Office, which works to improve health, economic and spiritual conditions of the poor around the world. It was started in the 1990s by a group of four Ohio brothers, all doctors, who organized a team of health care workers, Salvation Army officers and Spanish-speaking interpreters to dispense medical care and spread a religious message.
The Danville and Champaign Salvation Army branches will not put local funds toward the trip.
"But they certainly have our congregation's support," said Capt. Rob Whitney, who runs the Danville agency with his wife, Capt. Tammy Whitney.
This year, the team will visit to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, from Feb. 3-10. Members will hold clinics in that city, Copan and Santa Barbara, as well as in remote villages in the mountains and rural areas a few hours away.
"I don't think anyone truly realizes what extreme poverty we're dealing with," said Dena Sawka, who's gone on the mission the last two years. "For most, medical care is pretty haphazard. And for many, our clinics are the only medical treatment they get all year."
Before the trip, group members collect vitamins, over-the-counter medicine, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as money that will be used to buy prescription medicine. The items will be used during clinics, and the remainder will be donated to local medical centers.
"One hundred percent of what is brought in will be used in Honduras," Dena Sawka said. "The money won't be eaten up by administrative costs."
The Sawkas' group will include a cardiologist, obstetrician-gynecologist, dermatologist and psychologist, among other specialists.
Dena Sawka – a nurse for Dr. Arvinder Uppal, an ear, nose and throat doctor in Danville – will take vitals, administer breathing treatments and shots, start IVs, clean ears and perform other procedures. Her son will work in the makeshift pharmacy and help carry supplies.
"We will treat as many as we can," Dena Sawka said. Last year, the team treated between 350 and 500 people a day, and they expect to see as many this time.
Patients are treated for everything from respiratory infections and asthma to diabetes and hypertension. They also suffer from scabies and bites from a particular mosquito that breeds in the warm, moist climate.
"This mosquito burrows into the scalp and lays eggs under the skin," Dena Sawka explained. "You literally have to cut open the scalp to get the larvae out.
"And we see tons of scabies," she continued. "They burrow under the skin and cause extreme itching and sores. ... They can't get rid of them because they're living in such close, confined spaces. They're washing their clothes in the river or in cold water."
In addition, patients have a number of problems that stem from or are worsened by their lack of clean drinking water, poor nutrition and extreme poverty.
"There's a lot of protein missing from their diet," Dena Sawka said, adding many subsist off of a type of corn or beans. "Many suffer from malnutrition. That can affect their vision, their teeth. And because they can't drink the water, many of them will drink only (soda) pop. All of the sugar in the pop causes dental issues. It's more common than not to see people with missing teeth ... or a mouthful of cavities."
And often, the group is working in primitive conditions.
"We usually hold clinics in schools," Dena Sawka said. "They're usually concrete block buildings. Sometimes you get a roof, and sometimes you don't. Last year, we got a classroom with a little bitty hole in the roof of the ceiling. That was our light other than the natural light through the door. We had to work with flashlights."
Despite those conditions and the exhausting work, Dena Sawka was thrilled to be invited back for this year's trip, and even more excited to have her son be invited along, after she told the group leader of his interest.
"I can't wait to show him everything and experience it again through fresh eyes," she said.
People interested in donating items for the Salvation Army World Service Office's medical mission to Honduras can drop them off at the Salvation Army offices at 855 E. Fairchild St., Danville, and 502 N. Prospect Ave., C.
Here's what's needed:
– Children's chewable vitamins.
– Adult multivitamins.
– Children's Chewable Tylenol (80mg).
– Children's Liquid Tylenol (with droppers).
– Robitussin DM.
– Zantac (75 mg).
– Children's Cough and Cold.
– Adult Tylenol.
Monetary donations can be made to the Danville office. Checks must indicate that the money should go to Honduras.
The deadline is Jan. 31.