Maj. Michael McGourty, 102nd Medical Group physician assistant, treated 100 Paraguayan patients in two days, Nov. 13-14. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Evan Lagasse)
SAN PABLO, Paraguay -- A Massachusetts Air Guard officer spent 28 hours airborne, round-trip, in civilian aircraft in order to provide medical services for patients 10- to 80-years-old during a fall weekend in South America.
Major Michael McGourty, 102nd Medical Group physician assistant, participated in a Medical Civil Affairs Program with soldiers from the Massachusetts Army Guard, Nov.10-17, in the rural San Pablo District of Paraguay.
The travel originated in Boston and temporarily stopped in both Miami and Brazil before arriving in Paraguay. Then the real work began.
"The program is set up as two-day patient care and it's on a Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 13-14). They tend to use a local school and the weekend is the best time to do that so the school's curriculum is not interrupted," said Major McGourty, an eight-year Air Guard veteran.
Patients waited outside the school in 80-90 degree temperatures until it was their turn to be seen. Once inside the school, they met with a provider who was typically one of four providers in the same classroom all seeing patients at the same time. Available medical services ranged from optometry to dental and blood pressure checks to prescription refills.
Of the approximately 2,600 patients served by the entire MEDCAP team, Major McGourty provided medical services for approximately 100 patients, spending an average of seven to eight minutes with each person.
"It wasn't emergency medicine. The people were relatively healthy for the most part," said Major McGourty. "They live in a very rural area of Paraguay so most took advantage of the MEDCAP for the relatively convenient access to care they don't experience on a day-to-day basis."
Two of the biggest challenges were the language barrier, which was eased by the availability of several translators, and the inability for providers to follow up with patients who had potentially serious conditions.
"One patient had a lump on her thyroid. Was it cancerous? I don't know, but I would like to be able to follow up. I contacted the main Paraguayan authorities about the patient so they could follow up immediately," said Major McGourty.
With many moving parts and the short time frame with which the team had to operate, there was potential for the MEDCAP to go awry but proper planning, professional people and patient patients made the event a resounding success.
"I didn't really know what to expect when I volunteered for this trip but I was very impressed by the way the operation was run. The team did an amazing job with logistics and it was clear how much the Paraguayan military genuinely cares about their people," said Major McGourty.
In addition to Major McGourty and the Massachusetts Army Guard soldiers on the MEDCAP, the team consisted of U.S. active duty servicemembers, Paraguayan medical personnel and Paraguayan Special Forces.
Massachusetts is partnered with the country of Paraguay through the National Guard's multifaceted State Partnership Program which links U.S. states with foreign nations to promote and enhance bilateral relations.