Saint Louis University

Author: Jessica Norman
Published: Friday, July 13, 2012

During June, three recent dietetic interns, Rachel Friedman, Delaney Lundeen, and Abby Olson, and myself along with professor, Karen Steitz participated on a medical mission trip in Honduras. We volunteered through the Amiga organization, which is a mission dedicated to delivering basic health care, preventative health education, and hope to the less fortunate communities of Honduras.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras

What exactly do five nutritionistas do on a medical mission trip in Honduras?
To be honest, we did not know what to expect before entering this life-changing experience. Prior to the trip, family and friends would ask me, “So what will you be doing in Honduras? My response was always, “I will be conducting nutrition assessments”. However, this trip clearly exceeded all of our expectations. Not only were we able to see nearly 1,000 patients in one week, conduct heights and weights on every single person, calculate BMIs, collect head and mid arm circumferences on children, and perform endless blood glucose screenings and nutrition consults, but we were also able to provide assistance as needed. These included tasks such as counting pills in the pharmacy, interpreting for pediatricians and neurologists, and exchanging laughs with our patients.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras
Counting pills for the pharmacy

The culture in Honduras is vastly different from our own; many of the patients we saw lived in rural communities in the mountains where access to medical care is limited. Some had to walk nearly six hours to see us! Furthermore, per Dr. Helena, one of the founders of the Amiga mission, doctors in Honduras tend to be apathetic towards their patients and don’t touch them. Based on this factor, we made sure to stress the importance of touching our patients and making them feel the care they deserve. It is amazing how something as simple as a touch, hug, or smile can communicate when words can’t or create a connection between people from two cultures. The smiles and gratitude of our patients is something I will always carry with me.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras
Delaney and Karen conducting a nutrition consult.

A day in the vida of a nutritionista
We started our mission trip in a small town in the mountains called Pinalejo. It took us about a 2-hour truck ride up the mountains to get there. The other nutritionistas and I, sans Karen, road in the back of the pick up truck, which is clearly the Honduran way of getting around! It was little bit of a dangerous ride up the narrow roads where driving laws do not seem to apply and passing is a dangerous task. I think I saw my life flash before my eyes a couple times, but fortunately, we all made it to Pinalejo in one piece!

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras
Riding in the back of the pickup truck


Our first day of the mission was a learning experience. I think seeing 50 people already waiting for us that morning was a tad overwhelming. However, Karen jumped right in and said, “Go lead a nutrition class,” so we began our first day leading a nutrition class in Spanish for the group. I think this entire trip can be characterized trying new things and being creative. Karen had never used the MAC/FOC ratio in practice and was really excited to use ratio on children in Honduras to predict malnutrition. We also didn’t know what to expect with nutrition educations and consults. We were fortunate the doctors referred a lot of people back to see us. We saw a majority of patients for diabetes and weight loss as well as for weight gain in children. By the end of the trip, I felt like such a pro at giving diabetes consults in Spanish!

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras
Abby and Rachel collecting heights and weights of children
Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras Jess taking blood glucose levels.

I also have a perfect example of combining our expertise and creativity. On one of our days in Pinalejo, we encountered a one-year old child who was so severely malnourished she was the size of a two-month old. Her mother had stopped breastfeeding her because something was wrong with one of her breasts and the child wouldn’t latch on correctly. Furthermore, because she couldn’t afford cow’s milk for a family of nine, she had been feeding the infant sugar water. The baby was literally starving. Since we had run out of infant formula, we had to give the baby what we did have, which was Glucerna, and dilute it appropriately. I remember Karen saying something along the lines that she never thought in a million years she would be giving an infant Glucerna, a supplemental beverage for diabetics; however, given our situation and resources, this was the best option we had for the health of the child. This is just one of the many interesting and heart-breaking cases we encountered.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras A little girl severely malnourished that we gave Glucerna supplement.

Overall, the Honduras mission was a fulfilling learning experience. Not only do I feel I was able to help others with my own nutrition expertise and affection but I was also touched by the patients themselves. I am constantly evolving my own life perceptions and attitudes; the warm and welcoming people of Honduras helped me to do just that in such a short time. I also met so many amazing people on this trip that are sure to be great lifelong friends.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns travel to Honduras A little girl severely malnourished that we gave Glucerna supplement.

I hope you enjoyed this brief snapshot of our adventures in Honduras! Continue to follow for further posts about specific cases, food, interesting stories, etc...