From Costa Rica: Air Force pediatricians provide care to local children in Costa Rica

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Steve Bauer
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
A line of anxious children wraps around a cement wall of a local school here.

One of the children at the front of the line, waiting for his turn, occupies his time by picking away at the cracking paint of the lime green walls of the recently converted clinic with his fingers.

The children are all awaiting the care of two U.S. Air Force pediatricians. The two doctors are part of a team of U.S. Air Force healthcare professionals that arrived here May 16 to support a joint humanitarian medical mission with local Costa Rican physicians.

Due to weaker immune systems, children need more frequent medical care than adults. The children of the rural regions of Alajuela are at a disadvantage to be seen regularly by Costa Rican physicians because of the isolated location. Many of these children have mild problems; however, if left untreated, the problems could end up becoming major medical issues.

"The most important thing our team is doing here is educating the parents about child care issues so that they have all the information to provide for the well-being of their children," said Capt. Michael Riggall, a Vandenberg Air Force Base 30th Medical Operations Squadron pediatrician and medical team member here.

While educating the families is important, the pediatricians also provided the children with treatments and checkups for those in need. The team has treated more than 500 children each day since May 18, with ailments ranging from simple colds to skin conditions due to abundant sun exposure.

This high-paced workload is not the typical working environment for the team of health care specialists, and their days are both mentally and physically exhausting.

"The days can be tough at times, but for me it is relatively easy to overcome," Captain Riggall said. "The excitement I get when I see a family coming in the door with troubled kids behind them and knowing that within five to 10 minutes from now the kids are going to leave here having learned something they probably did not know is rewarding."

Working alongside Captain Riggall is another physician helping out in the pediatrics section. For this doctor, the humanitarian effort hits close to home.

"Being a part of this mission has been a dream-come-true for me," said Lt. Col. Stephanie Schaefer, a physician from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. "I grew up in Costa Rica, and this mission is my way of giving back to the children here. I have noticed that the children are actually really healthy here, and so it goes to show, Costa Rica takes care of their children."

The specialized expertise of the pediatricians plays a large role in the current and long-term health of the children of the rural regions of Alajuela.
The little boy waiting at the front of the line hears someone say, "Next!" Instantly, he is greeted at the door by two caring pediatricians who have traveled a long distance to set him on the right path for a healthy life.

(Editor's note: Airmen from Vandenberg's 30th Medical Group, along with three specialists from other Air Force medical units, is working jointly with Costa Rican medical professionals in this humanitarian effort. While Air Force medical teams often mobilize to support humanitarian missions, this team is the first full medical-specialty team from the United States allowed into Costa Rica.)