A.H.A.N./Nippon Kan: Armando Lopez Nicaragua Project
Written by Dr. Ray Howe
My recent travel to Nicaragua, October 2005, while brief, was an inspirational experience. Stepping off the plane in Managua, I immediately felt a difference in the atmosphere as compared to other Central and South American countries I have traveled in; one much more relaxed than I had anticipated for a country so recently ravaged by internal war. This relaxed and positive feeling was to be reflected in so many of the people I met over the next several days. I was fortunate to meet Susan Kinne and other aikidoka there, and have 2 great days of training, despite the 80-90 degrees temperatures and similar levels of humidity.
I first met Armando Lopez at his home after his father walked Susan and I the several blocks where the taxi left us off. [Susan noted on a recent visit to Armando’s neighborhood there were 2 gang members attempting to resolve their differences with machetes]. His home, a tin roofed structure with approximately 150 square feet of enclosed space [no windows however], and a single outdoor sink was found at the end of a muddy wagon path. Armando was smiling, as he was through out my entire visit. With Susan’s assistance as interpreter, we discussed his exciting news that his recent surgery had revealed no cancer! He expressed his desire to be back to the dojo as soon as possible [likely 2 weeks]. We discussed his goal of continuing his legal studies to become a lawyer in 3 years “to keep helping other people”. He revealed how he has been working to help others over the past 2 years overcome their illness as he hopes he has. He repeatedly stated his interest in visiting Nippon Kan. We discussed possible ways AHAN may be able to continue supporting his tremendous recovery. I was clear in stating that while we were discussing many potential projects, that I could not guarantee anything and that all decisions in these matters would be those of Homma Sensei and AHAN. Armando, of all the people I have met, is among the most spirited. He seems to genuinely be interested in the assistance of others even as he has suffered the loss of one leg, and more recently a surgery resulting in the removal of a large portion of his right lung and a scar approaching 2 feet long.
Summary of possible avenues of support for Armando and humanitarian assistance [listed in order of priority]:
- Financial assistance to Armando to cover scholarship monies lost due to recent surgery. Armando has secured several scholarships from the national government to assist in covering his tuition and other costs associated with attending law school. His recent surgery has resulted in the loss of scholarship coverage for “matriculation fees” which had covered several registration fees and transportation expenses from his home to the university [by local bus]. These costs total approximately $300/year. Due to significant expenses associated with his recent illness, the loss of this support could delay his education by 12 months. It remains unclear whether he will be able to regain this specific scholarship in future years. As his health improves he may be able to secure work as a welder to offset some of these costs.
- Work to establish a liaison organization between hospital patients and the Ministry of Health of Nicaragua. When Armando was first diagnosed with his illness [osteosarcoma of the leg] he quickly realized the disparity between medical care that was immediately available to him and the treatment he would ultimately need [especially chemotherapy]. The health care system in Nicaragua guarantees a certain level of medical care to its citizens; additional treatments including chemotherapy are not included. The cost of such additional therapies is prohibitive to many [most] Nicaraguans including Armando and his family. Interestingly however there exist additional avenues of support available through the Ministry of Health. Armando describes spending countless hours learning who the contacts at the Ministry were, and how to navigate the paperwork in the system that ultimately allowed him to be granted additional coverage for his medical care. Since that time he has helped others with their petitions to secure their needed care. There is apparently no system in place [e.g. social workers] to provide this service. Armando has already taken it upon himself to help these people over the past 2 years; he suggested continuing this work may in some way repay the support he has been given by AHAN and others. We discussed the potential to increase the magnitude of this beneficial service; perhaps by teaching other volunteers how to assist those in need, working with some of the hospital infrastructure, and by developing written documents that could assist in patient education of services that may be available. Support that would be required by Armando would be limited, primarily helping him maintain some internet access [$20/month estimated]. The hope would be that the process could result in an organization that would continue when Armando takes his skills on to his work as a lawyer.
- Provide assistance in the form of basic medical supplies to Armando’s treating hospital. During my stay in Nicaragua, Armando arranged a meeting with a hospital physician, administrators and clinical staff. A tour of the hospital, one of the 5 largest in Nicaragua, revealed a severe lack of basic medical supplies. Supplies that would be taken for granted in any out patient clinic here in Colorado were missing. Talking with several clinical staff members and touring the facility revealed a significant need for: nebulizer machines [used in the treatment of acute asthma attacks], cost used $100-150, pressure regulators for oxygen tanks [there were plenty of large oxygen canisters for provide supplemental oxygen, but a limited number of pressure regulators severely compromises the hospital’s ability to use oxygen], cost of used regulators $50-100 each, bed sheets and patient gowns, ECG instruments [used to take EKG’s, the hospital had one functioning unit for all of its departments], cost used $500-2500. Despite the limited finances of the AHAN organization, there may be ways to investigate the donation of funds or used equipment for these needs. We discussed the importance of monitoring the use and final destination of any medical equipment supplied. Armando had ideas on how to personally ensure that any donated equipment reach its proposed destination.
Armando’s travel to Colorado to train at Nippon Kan
The recent [great] news regarding the lack of any cancer being found in Armando’s lung has only further fueled Armando’s desire to come to the U.S. to train at Nippon Kan. While he plans to be training at his home dojo in the next 2 weeks, there exists some uncertainty as to when such travels would be appropriate.