PARAMEDICS FOR CHILDREN
airport to interview Harrison. “She asked the name of the organization,
and we didn’t have a name,” he said. “Well, who do we tell people to give
money to?” he recalled her asking. “You’re a paramedic, right? You help
the children, right? Why don’t you call it Paramedics for Children?”
“And that’s how we got our name. She named us!” said Harrison
with a chuckle.
When recovery efforts from Hurricane Mitch slowed, Harrison
resumed his deliveries of school supplies and basic medical care to the
rural areas by horseback. In 1999, when he returned to the U.S. from
one such trip, he said, “I made the mistake of telling my friends about
there being no ambulances, and they said, ‘why don’t you get one?’”
He did. Turning to his EMS connections, Harrison started obtain-
ing used ambulances slated for retirement. For several years, the main
project at PFCI was repurposing old ambulances, filling them with
donated medical and school supplies, and shipping them to Honduras.
The work was daunting for the fledgling charity, but help came
from a surprising corner: the Parrot Head Club of Charlotte (of which
Rodger was a charter member). “Parrot Heads” are devotees of singer
Jimmy Buffet—one of Harrison’s favorite acts to cover as an entertainer. An international nonprofit organization with more than 200
clubs, Parrot Heads unite under the slogan, “party with a purpose” and
engage in “activities that are charitable, educational and that promote
the general welfare of the community” according to their website. For
PFCI, this meant years of valuable assistance that also included, for
four years, putting on two fundraising music festivals a year.
With equipment came the need for trained people to use it. In
1999, Harrison turned his energy to training and development of rescue squads, and graduated the first class of Honduran EMTs that year.
In 2001, he relocated fulltime to Honduras to support the work there
while Morton stayed in the States to manage things—in particular,
fundraising—on that end.
By 2004, PFCI had developed the first volunteer ambulance service
CREATING THE CLINIC
in Central America, including rescue teams in nearby Guatemala.
During those years, according to Harrison, PFC delivered more than
50 ambulances to Honduras and trained about 340 volunteer EMTs.
The development of the EMS infrastructure was largely taken over by
in-country personnel when EMS was integrated into the fire service,
but PFCI hasn’t wavered from its commitment to provide medical
relief for people in need. (Nowadays, sadly, patients in Copán Ruinas
take the 2.5-hour ride to the hospital by bus, since local ambulance
service is no longer available.)
Although the paramedic in Harrison still loves emergency care, he realized as time went on that PFCI could make a different sort of impact
by building access to basic medical care for the people in and around
Copán Ruinas. In 2005, this led to Clinica la Esperanza. PFCI owns
the buildings and medical equipment, Harrison said, and the doctor,
nurse and receptionist are independent contractors. PFCI provides an
apartment for the doctor, plus a small stipend.
The clinic provides quality medical care to some of the poorest communities in Central America. To date, more than 50,000 people have
come through the clinic’s doors. In keeping with the intense pride of
the local people, the doctor charges a small fee of 75 limieras ($3) per
consultation, plus medicine.
But, said Harrison, “there’s no hard and fast rule. If someone can’t
pay, you have to treat him. We don’t give things away, to avoid creating beggars, so if someone has no money, [we might have them] send
their oldest son to clean up for a few days and we’ll be square.” Or payment might arrive in the form of chickens or bananas, and that’s ok.
Harrison said doctors typically stay several years, gaining irreplaceable
experience, and the clinic has grown ever-busier. Dr. Miguel Moreno,
the current chief physician, is in his fourth year at Clinica la Esperanza. He’s often flanked by an intern or two who are learning more
than they ever imagined they would.
The internship program is one of two main volunteer program
opportunities at PFCI: 1) medical, and 2) educational. In the medical program, students and people with medical training (e.g., paramedics, nurses, physician assistants, physicians) work in the clinic,
shadowing the doctor and doing various hands-on tasks. Working in
such a unique medical setting yields valuable, career-building experience for the interns.
Michael Jensen, 22, of Portland, Ore., had a 10-day medical internship in December 2016. His dream of becoming a physician began
in his freshman year of high school. Now a college graduate, he’s
ready for medical school—and his resume is surely enriched by his
“At first, I was just trying to follow the conversation,” said Jensen,
who speaks Spanish, but soon discovered the dialect is unique to Copán.
“We’d see a patient, and after, [Dr. Miguel] would review it with me
and the paramedic who was with me. We’d talk about his decisions.”
Jensen said he saw a lot of similar situations: “U TI, bacterial infections, a lot of parasites,” he said. But by the end of the week, Dr. Miguel
increasingly offered Jensen and the other intern hands-on duties.
“One case we had speaks to the simplicity of the medicine there,
and how a simple treatment can make a large impact on quality of
life,” recalled Jensen. “There was a campesino, a farmer, who had never
cleaned his ears. Wax had built up so badly and collected so much dust
Miguel Moreno, MD, has been chief physician at Clinica la Esperanza for nearly
four years. Photo courtesy Rodger Harrison