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Buffalo medical brigade using "left-over drugs" to save lives in El Salvador

photo by Joyce Kryszak
Trinity Medical Brigade volunteer Catherine Gillespie

By Joyce Kryszak


Buffalo, NY –

Photos by Catherine Gillespie

A mission group led by Trinity Church on Delaware Avenue took some unusual baggage with them to El Salvador this week.

The suitcases that this 16-member team carried into the airport on Sunday were not filled with clothes and shoes. Each bag was stuffed with 50 pounds of donated prescriptions and other medications - 1,600 pounds total.

Volunteer Catherine Gillespie points out the various kinds of donated drugs they took down to El Salvador for the one week mission. There are pain pills, blood pressure medicine, and much more.

Gillespie said the drugs are left-overs, given to them by people who have unused pain pills, or have changed drug regimens, and pills donated by families after someone dies.

Her husband John Gillespie is the physician who organized the medical portion of the trip. He and other physicians sort through the pills to make sure they are not expired. The pills are then consolidated and Dr. Gillespie writes a blanket prescription that allows them to legally transport the drugs.

Catherine Gillespie said they have to take that and additional proof that the drugs are legitimate to get through customs.

"It's a sort of unique system. We show them the letter from Mayor Brown. In that letter it says we're o.k. - we're not taking anything illegal...we're not drug mules," said Gillespie.

Gillespie said this is their seventh trip to the impoverished country since 2006. She said they treat about 500 patients during the week they are in San Salvador. The physicians do exams, then write medication protocols and leave the patients enough meds until the group returns next year.

With most people in El Salvador only earning only about two dollars a day, Gillespie said they probably would not have the medicine otherwise.

She said the medical brigade has about 70 percent success rate with treating illnesses such as high blood pressure. But Gillespie said even meds such as Motrin can make a huge difference. She especially remembers one two-year old little girl.

"She was sitting on her mom's lap, runny nose - she was miserable. We gave her some children's Motrin and a half an hour later she's smiling and happy and her mother was smiling," said Gillespie. "It was such a little thing. We don't think anything of Motrin or Tylenol and it means so much to them."

The group, which included doctors, nurses, public health professionals and an opthalmologist also took down some medical equipment, reading glasses and personal hygeine items.