Meet Huascar Rodriguez, MD
How did you begin your journey with Batey Dos?
Hi, my name is Huascar Rodriguez, MD, from Pascal Pantry. I have been serving in a community which has been affected over decades by so many social determinants of health which continue to deteriorate and make their life expectancies very short. It’s something that I don’t get to see very often in my daily routine. Nowadays, things have changed dramatically and there has been positive changes in the health and quality of life from different interventions that have been implemented such as access to health care, which has helped so many children and adults in a community with around 315 families.
I began my journey with Batey Dos after visiting the community with Dr. Tom Kelly and seeing the need of so many children who were struggling with malnutrition due to the lack of food. There was one special child who was suffering with severe signs of malnutrition, and he was always sitting hungry like most of the children. This touched my heart so deeply that I spent weeks crying, self-reflecting, praying to God and trying to process what was happening in that community. That experience reminded me a road trip to the Haitian boarder that I did with my family when I was about 8 years old. I got to see the life in a borderline state where Haitians were completely excluded from the society and the critical aspect of their lives traumatized me, but also helped me to understand more about life. At that moment, my passion to pursue a medical career started. Batey Dos, to me, represents a sanctuary where I see God’s face reflected in those children smiling with innocence, peace, and love, with the hope of what they will become with more opportunities in the future.
Can you tell us about your current role with Pascal’s Pantry and the community?
As a physician, I support children’s health with a monthly visit to the Batey by setting up mobile clinics so I can provide a medical diagnosis and understand the health problems in the community. Most of the time, I go there more than two or three times in a month based on the needs of the community. I also look for opportunities to bring other groups to collaborate with me on different projects that focus on the development of the health of the community and public health policies that I have implemented there. In addition, I provide treatments and follow up of on their medical problems to make sure they grow healthy and stay within an adequate percentile based on their weight and height. On every visit I don’t just follow the children but also track HTN, diabetes and other chronic diseases that were uncontrolled in the community before we started these medical interventions in 2017. Also, on every visit, I provide education about their most common problems and how to prevent them (upper and lower track infections, malnutrition, STDs, nutrition, vaccinations, and making sure every newborn is identified so I can give a neonatal follow up, among others). I also support the commitment that the community has regarding hygiene and the importance of tracking the garbage (they live adjacent to a garbage dump) on a system to make their health better. It’s more about connecting different fields of medicine (internal medicine, family medicine, pediatric, cardiology, surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, etc.) and directing those fields toward public health policy which helps with early detection of diseases. This has been proven to increase their life expectancy significantly over decades, and today, those living in Batey Dos feel better, have more control of their lives, and they are living, more than ever before, a life of justice and fairness.
What are the greatest challenges you see?
From a health perspective, a 5-month year old male was my most recent greatest challenge in Batey Dos. I diagnosed this patient with a disease that causes long term complications and leads to death if untreated. In addition to this primary medical problem, this child was struggling with malnutrition and was very sick. It is for that reason his twin brother died last December 2022, and it was unfortunate that when we found out about the case it was already too late to help. Thanks to God and the great effort made to put him on treatment, the baby looks much better and now is no longer at risk of dying due to the medical problem he was facing. In the pictures you can see the before and after of the case.
From a nutritional perspective, each child that receives food from the community makes me think about the most important thing in life and makes me realize that God is great. It makes me happy to know that He is using me as instrument to bless and support this community through this amazing platform (Pascal’s Pantry) and to surround it with amazing people like Dr. Tom Kelly, Dr. Tanya Benedict, and the support of Pascal Pantry Board of Directors.
Other challenges that I have faced in the community include keeping the health care system implemented in Batey Dos and sustainable. It’s also important to me to work toward the Haitians in the community having more inclusion into the local system and to link them to missions from the country and from the US. By doing this, it will provide support to the community as a measure of public health policy, help them have access to health care, and to be more visible into the society.
Another challenge I have confronted is connecting the community to the Embassy in order to provide access of birth certifications from Haiti, so the children are able to go to school. It’s important for the children to break the barrier of language, as well. This will move them toward breaking the barrier of the lack of opportunity which limits the development as a human being into the local system.
Addressing public health policy has been a challenge but it has helped me to identify through research, problems related with the water (like pseudomonas), and parasite infections related to microorganisms that can threaten people’s health with certain underlying conditions. Finding ways to provide medications to control hypertension, diabetes, and others, allows those in the community to have a better life and to increase their life expectancy a bit more.
What are the greatest successes you have seen?
The greatest successes I have seen here are around the improvement of the health of the children and adults of the community. Malnutrition has been reduced and basically, eliminated. Most of the upper and lower track infections have been reduced significantly due to access of medicine, health care systems, education implementation and a balanced healthy meal in a community kitchen built by Pascal’s Pantry, which started with the idea of reducing malnutrition due to lack of food. The access of birth certifications has helped provide more inclusion of these children into the local school system and has helped to break the language barrier. The installation of the solar panels will reduce the high rate of death due to fires in the community. I have helped reduce the high rate of uncontrolled diabetes and uncontrolled hypertension with the provision of free medicine to those one who can’t fight for their right to have access to health care. Generally speaking, I have seen improvements from a health, social, and sustainability perspective in a group of people who have been struggling and just trying to live day by day. As a physician, I have addressed problems that harm the health of these people in terms of water, sanitation, prevention, research etc. With the information I have acquired, I have been able to prevent and provide a better service to the community and to reduce the mortality rate caused by certain diseases that remain endemic in the community. Little by little these people have had more inclusion into the local system which increases their hope of a better future.
Why do you remain so committed?
One of the philosophies of life I have learned and practiced over the years is that I found myself losing myself in the service of other. It is one of my favorite quotes phrased by Mahatma Gandhi which makes my purpose in life more significant. Pascal’s Pantry, to me, represents a solid platform which allows me to develop my faith of action through my work using every opportunity to transform life for God’s purpose. My commitment started with the lesson that life has given me over the years, in addition to numerous self-reflections. I have also learned from each of the annual and immersion retreat programs I joined in support of Dr. Tom Kelly. These retreats focused on the vision of spiritual Ignatian values in our Christian life.
Working in Batey Dos has helped me understand that life is not about money. It has helped me to understand that in this society there is undervalued life, which places obstacles to access of health on people who can’t afford anything. It’s an experience that makes me question why people without access to basic services don’t have access to free health care. I think that each of the challenges I have seen in this community helped me to understand that the only thing we all have guaranteed in this life is death. It’s for this reason that I personally decided to use my talents God has given me to fight for those without rights in the same way mother Teresa of Calcutta did. I reflect on the phrase that the lack of love is the greatest poverty of the human being. I truly believe in God, and I can’t say no when I see some child or adult struggling because of lack of food, lack of health care, lack of hope and has the desire of the opportunity of education. I’ll do whatever I have to do to continue God’s work until my last day because I think that is what God wants me to do, and he taught us to do this in life. We need to love each other with everything we can and make this world better. I would like to end with what is written in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Huascar Rodriguez, MD