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Nicaragua medical mission trip fundraiser set for next week

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A few Columbus locals are holding a spaghetti feed on Sunday, Dec. 5, to raise money for a medical mission trip to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

This will be CHI Health-Columbus Nurse Practitioner Tamra Boettcher's tenth time traveling to Nicaragua in the last 11 years for the medical mission trip, which she said was originally started by Columbus Community Hospital's Dr. Nila Novotny.

"She now has ventured off to do different trips," Boettcher said.

Boettcher said she has kept coming back because the community is so welcoming and, she said, because there's work to be done. She said the trip, which usually takes place early in the year, didn't happen in 2021.

"Historically we end up seeing about 500 people," Boettcher said. "...They are relying on us. We didn't get to go (in 2021) and that was really difficult. Right now, it sounds like we are going to be the only medical team that the Ministry of Health is going to let in, so it's going to be crazy."

Boettcher said people travel from miles away to be there for the team's visit. Boettcher will be joined by locals Julie Canaday Graham, Michelle Wiese and Mark Wiese, a team of six Nicaraguan doctors and support personnel from Global Passion Ministries, a California-based group that helps with this mission trip and others like it.

"I have done mission trips in the past with church groups," said Graham, a speech language pathologist. "...This is going to be my first medical mission trip where I'll be doing work with speech therapy."

In the past years, Boettcher said the team focused on a variety of general ear, nose and throat surgeries, but has since shifted to cleft lip and palate repairs and tonsillectomies. Graham's work will focus on resolving difficulties with feeding, swallowing and speech communication.

Boettcher said cleft lips and palates are common birth defects in the area, thought to be related to contaminated groundwater and carbon monoxide exposure while cooking in poorly ventilated homes.

Otherwise, Boettcher said, it's hard to know what to expect, especially since the area was hit by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020.

Every year, she said, the Columbus team members select a special project to benefit the community. Those projects have included buying school uniforms, giving rice and beans and monetary support for a feeding station, providing silverware for children who live in the dump and establishing secondary education scholarships for children in the orphanage.

"We never know what the need will be from year to year but it becomes very apparent when we arrive," Boettcher said.

Donated funds will be used for various other items, from medical supplies to fuel for gas-powered generators.

Clean water is a commodity, Boettcher said, but the area's electricity has grown more reliable over the years. She said the Puerto Cabezas community has been working very hard to improve the hospital, and that the long term goal is to have a fully-staffed surgical team of Nicaraguan doctors and staffers.

In the meantime, the services provided by the Global Passion Ministries group are vital.

People who wish to donate can do so at the Dec. 5 spaghetti feed which will be held from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. at Peace Lutheran Church, 2720 28th St. in Columbus. Donations can also be dropped off at the CHI Health Clinic Heart Institute - Columbus, 4508 38th St. Suite 157 in Columbus, where Boettcher works. All checks should be made out to Global Passion Ministries-NE.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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