Mike Bloomfield brings help, hope to Hondurans

Dispensing medication and treating minor illnesses is what you would expect a pharmacist to do on a medical mission to a poor country. When he travels to Honduras each year, Mike Bloomfield, sixth floor satellite pharmacy supervisor in Emory Hospital, does a lot more than provide basic pharmacy and medical services.

"For this year's project," Bloomfield said, "we're going to build a bridge across a river. The river floods a lot and has a lot of raw sewage in it, and the kids walk through it on their way to school. They don't have any shoes, so consequently they get all kinds of worms and other intestinal parasites. So we're building a bridge so they will be able to walk over the river."

Building better lives

Bloomfield began traveling to Honduras on medical/construction missions five years ago through an organization called Honduras Outreach Inc. (HOI). The organization was begun by three Atlanta men who also own a ranch in the San Esteban Valley in a remote part of Honduras. HOI has built a small hospital on the ranch and a few small medical clinics in outlying areas to serve more than half of the valley's 55,000 residents. The hospital is staffed by a Honduran and a Nicaraguan doctor, both of whom speak English and have received training at Emory and DeKalb Medical Center.

Each February or March, Bloomfield and the rest of his group make the long and complicated trek to Honduras, which he said is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. They fly to Miami and then to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Then they take a seven-hour bus ride through the mountains to a tiny town on the frontier, where the paved roads end. They spend the night in a hotel, and the bus leaves early in the morning to get them to the ranch in time for late morning church services. They can't travel the last leg of the journey at night, Bloomfield said, because that's when the "banditos" in the mountains attack travelers.

One of the villages that the HOI group visits is called El Perdrero (the rock), which Bloomfield said is "way up in the mountains," another two and a half hours from the ranch. "When the dirt road ends," he explained, "we throw all the medicines on top of a mule and walk for about an hour to a river, which we cross in a dugout canoe. The mules are brought across the river, and then we repack. Then it's another hour and a half to the village."

In addition to spending 17- to 18-hour days dispensing medicine (mostly antibiotics), treating minor illnesses and assisting with basic dental care, Bloomfield also helps with the group's ambitious construction projects. The group has built a dormitory building for 75 people as well as a cow barn. "This past year, we built a chicken house," Bloomfield said. "The year before, we built a big barn to put farming equipment in and to store corn for feed. It's obviously a very agrarian culture."

One of the group's future projects involves a building on the ranch that used to be an orphanage. "They moved the orphanage to the coast, which is about a four-hour drive," Bloomfield said. "So we are thinking about making that building into a trade school so that we can teach the villagers a skill. One of the wealthiest people in the whole valley is the pottery maker, and she makes lots of decorative pots. So if we can teach the villagers a trade, we can make them self sufficient."

A lifelong volunteer

For his work in Honduras as well as with his church, Bloomfield recently received the Community Service Award from the Georgia Society of Hospital Pharmacists. He has coached youth sports in Gwinnett County for seven years. He has coached mostly baseball, but has gotten into basketball coaching the last couple of years.

Bloomfield also has done a great deal of community service work through his church, Mountain Park Methodist Church in Stone Mountain. He has volunteered many hours at soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the metro area.

Being able to sympathize with those in need is natural for Bloomfield, who grew up in Texas 10 miles from the Mexican border, an area he said is one of the poorest in the country. "I can appreciate what people go through because I've lived it and I know what it feels like," Bloomfield said. "But my mother never told me we were poor when I was growing up. My sister and I have asked her why she never told us, and she said she never thought it was important."

Growing up without material wealth and going to help the poorest people on this side of the planet has influenced Bloomfield's perspective of the average American lifestyle. "I'm embarrassed by my wealth when I go down to Honduras," he said. "We don't take any watches or jewelry or any other valuables with us, partly because of safety concerns, but also because you realize just how obscenely rich you are. I think there needs to be more of an equilibrium, more of a balance in a country that has so little."

Regardless of what decisions the Honduran government makes, Bloomfield plans to continue his missions as long as there are poor Hondurans who need his help. "I just try to keep my hands busy helping others," he said. "I've been very fortunate in my life and I just want to return the favor."

--Dan Treadaway

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