A TIONAL JEMSAR
Making a difference in Honduras
By Kate Dernocoeur, NREMT
One afternoon in 1997, a gregarious American paramedic was practicing his Spanish language skills in a bar
in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, when an urgent
plea for help filtered through the door. “There’s
a kid hurt,” recalled Rodger Harrison. “They
thought I was a doctor. There was not a doctor in town who would treat the poor people,
so I got involved.” He asked about an ambulance, but there was no such thing.
The patient was a little girl with a deep slice
to her foot. “I had my first aid kit with me and
I could bandage, but this girl needed stitches,”
he said. A willing “doctora” was finally found,
but when she arrived, she had no supplies. She
boiled some hair from a horse’s tail and used
it to stitch the girl’s cut—without anesthetic.
“It was a real-life experience,” concluded Harrison, one that led him to a new path in life:
making a difference in the lives of the people
in northern Honduras.
Fast forward 20-plus years: Harrison,
now 66, lives in Copán Ruinas with his wife,
Suyapa, and their three children. Their gracious
hacienda also serves as a bed-and-breakfast,
and the proceeds help fund the onsite medical
clinic he founded in 2005. Called “Clinica la
Esperanza,” it provides medical care to all who
come, regardless of ability to pay.
The clinic is the centerpiece of Paramedics for Children, the nonprofit Harrison and
a small group of dedicated helpers started
in 1997 with little more than passion and
determination. Officially called Paramedics
for Children International (PFCI), the IRS
tax-exempt charity also administers education programs and has provided disaster relief
throughout Central America and beyond. Harrison has, indeed, made a difference.
The story of PFCI starts with the man some
describe as “larger than life.” Harrison is one of
those naturally friendly, likable people always
ready with a joke, story or song. He retired
from a successful commercial real estate career
when he turned 40 in 1991, but quickly realized that everyone else was still busy. “I had a
boat, but my friends couldn’t go out fishing,”
An accomplished musician, Harrison writes
songs and plays “guitar, harmonica, anything
with strings,” he said. When he still lived in
his hometown of Gastonia, N.C., he was part
of several bands that were popular throughout
the region. One night in 1992, his band, Harrison & McClure, was playing near Charlotte
(N.C.), when he met Roz Morton. A media
consultant and owner of a media planning
and buying firm, Morton was integral to the
early years of Paramedics for Children, and
still serves as its finance director.
Around that time, the allure of EMS had
caught his eye and he was already working as
an EMT. When the two met, he was getting
ready for his final paramedic school exams. He
asked Morton if she’d be interested in managing his band. She was, and before long, they
were opening on side stages for such well-known singers as Reba McEntyre and Mary
Chapin Carpenter. She also hired Harrison
to be her creative director at the ad agency,
where he wrote and recorded voiceovers for
TV and radio spots.
Harrison loved his several years of working as a paramedic for Gaston Emergency
Medical Services (in Gastonia). “I was an
enigma,” he said about being an older medic.
He said he certainly took flak for driving a