CARLSBAD — An adventurous spirit and a career spent aiding people led one local firefighter and paramedic to one of his most memorable journeys.
Brandon Willis, 30, of the Carlsbad Fire Department spent one week at a small, rural medical clinic in Honduras tending to people without access to some of the most basic health-related treatments.
During his time, he said he saw poverty unlike he’s ever seen, yet some of the friendliest people he’s come across throughout his travels to 13 countries. But this time, he wanted to give back by using the skills and knowledge accrued through a career of saving lives and delivering treatment to the sick and injured.
“I wanted to do something a little more meaningful and do a medic trip,” Willis said. “It’s just a really small, humble town. Everyone was super nice.”
Willis left on May 18, his birthday, after connecting with Paramedics for Children, a Rock Hill, South Caroline-based nonprofit founded in 1997 by Rodger Harrison and Roz Morton, dedicated to providing medical care and school supplies for kids in Central America.
Willis found the nonprofit through an article in the Journal for Emergency Medical Services, submitted his application and it was approved. He was given permission by Carlsbad Fire Department to bring expired nonnarcotic medications to the mountainous Honduran village of Copán Ruinas, which sits in among the Mayan ruins near the border of Guatemala.
The nearest hospitals are several hours away, Willis said, and many residents live in huts constructed of mud. Still, Harrison, a former paramedic, said Willis was one of the most skilled paramedics to come through Clinica la Esperanza, which treats 800 to 1,000 patients per month, Morton and Harrison said.
Harrison said the organization has about 100 volunteers per year.
“He was a great kid and a great volunteer,” he said of Willis. “It’s a great program. We’ve been doing it so long; we go to every village.”
Willis’ days started at 5 a.m. with a trip to the mountains to provide medical care and deliver school supplies, typically with Harrison. The two would return, have breakfast around 6:30 a.m. and be in the clinic at 7 a.m., where Willis would work until 3 p.m. with Dr. Freddie Miranda, Harrison’s stepson.
During his downtime, Willis said he visited the Mayan ruins, Macaw Mountain bird park and mingle with the locals. And although the area is notorious as a route for narcotics traffickers, Willis said he did not see any or experience any sort of violence.
In fact, Willis said one of his biggest takeaways from his experience was the kindness and hospitality afforded to him by many people.
“It’s the only clinic of its kind in Honduras,” he said. “It definitely gave me an appreciation for what we do here. They truly don’t have any aid down there. The services we provide here are just insanely better and we’re just so grateful to have those here.”
The clinic is funded through donors, Harrison said. Most are former volunteers and even he and Morton do not get paid.
Miranda and his assistant are the only employees on the payroll, which comes from donations. Another source of revenue, though, is the Hacienda la Esperanza, which is a bed and breakfast in Copán Ruinas. All proceeds from the hacienda are put into the clinic, Harrison added.
Photo Caption: Brandon Willis, 30, a Carlsbad firefighter and paramedic, smiles with a Honduran girl during his time volunteering with Paramedics for Children in the country in May. Photo courtesy Brandon Willis