But this summer, the popular 66-year-old priest looked beyond the poverty of the eastern Coachella Valley and joined Rancho Mirage-based IMAHelps on a 10-day medical humanitarian mission to Jinotega, Nicaragua, one of the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere.
Located at 3,500-feet in the heart of one of Central America’s prime coffee growing regions, Jinotega has the highest infant mortality rate in Nicaragua, which is widely considered to be the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Fr. Lincoln, who joined 95 doctors, nurses, dentists and support personnel, about a third of whom live in the Coachella Valley.
“Their poverty is far worse than what we see in Mecca,” Fr. Lincoln said. “When we asked people in line how many of them did not have a toothbrush, everybody raised their hand. Children played with the toothbrushes we handed out as if they had never seen one before.”
The IMAHelps volunteers included orthopedic, maxillofacial and general surgeons as well as cardiologists, gynecologists, pediatricians, dentists and other healthcare specialists. The team, which provided free medical services at Victoria Motta Hospital in Jinotega, also included a prosthetist and a physical therapist.
Several of the volunteers came from Sacred Heart parish, including IMAHelps founder Ines Allen, her son, Donovan, who worked as an interpreter, and her sister, Ana Wood, who worked as a dental assistant.
Other Sacred Heart volunteers included Dr. Khoi Minh Le, a cardiologist from Eisenhower Medical Center and Dr. Carlos Lopez, an internal medicine doctor from Palm Desert, who was joined by his wife, Luisa Ospina, a dentist, and their two children, Samantha, and Alexandra, who worked as Spanish language interpreters. Other parishioners included Jeff Crider, who worked as a volunteer interpreter, photographer and publicist, and his daughter, Isabella, who volunteered in the IMAHelps pharmacy.
Fr. Lincoln, for his part, spent most of his days handling crowd control, using his Spanish to direct thousands of incoming patients to designated waiting areas for triage, dental examinations and other medical services. Father Lincoln also sat in on several medical consultations and offered counseling and encouragement to several patients who suffered from depression and other ailments that could not be readily addressed by the IMAHelps volunteers.
One of those patients was an adolescent boy who told IMAHelps volunteers he had dropped out of school for two years. While the boy had come by himself for a general medical evaluation, after learning of his situation, Father Lincoln talked with the boy about the importance of faith and God’s love and encouraged him to return the next day to speak with the hospital’s staff psychologist.
Fr. Lincoln said he was struck by the poverty of the farmworkers who harvest coffee, which is one of the world’s most lucrative crops. Many of them had not been to a doctor in many years. Some had never seen a dentist.
But during their 10-day medical mission, IMAHelps volunteers treated more than 7,000 patients, not only from Jinotega, but from surrounding communities in remote areas of Nicaragua near the Honduran border. Their patients included Jose Jesus Rodriguez, an 18-year-old coffee plantation worker who was born with an extra thumb on each hand, which IMAHelps surgeons removed.
In addition to being unsightly, Rodriguez said he could not move his extra thumbs and that they made it difficult for him to grasp various tools. He said the surgery would improve his job security by helping to ensure that he could grasp tools and other farm implements like his fellow coffee plantation employees.
Other patients included 64-year-old Catalino Vallecito Torres, another coffee plantation worker who was electrocuted when he fell on a power line while trimming a tree. His right leg was amputated just below his knee as a result of the electrocution, but the cut wasn’t made properly, so IMAHelps surgeons recut his leg and wrapped it so that it would heal properly.
Robert Openshaw, an IMAHelps prosthetist from San Bernardino, also fitted Torres with a prosthetic leg so that he could walk again, retain some level of independence and eventually get back to work.
Other patients seeking assistance included a 10-year old boy with polio. While doctors could do little for the boy, IMAHelps volunteers provided him with a wheelchair, which gave him a measure of independence he had never experienced before.
IMAHelps provided more than 20 wheelchairs, walkers and canes to patients, many of which were donated by Dr. Dannia Rodriguez, a physical therapist and IMAHelps volunteer from the Veteran’s Hospital in Loma Linda.
Fr. Lincoln said he was impressed by what IMAHelps achieved. All of the volunteers paid for their own airfare and used their vacation time to participate in the mission.
But while IMAHelps volunteers were only in Nicaragua for a short time, Fr. Lincoln said he hoped their work would have lasting impact, not only on the lives of the patients, but on the lives of the IMAHelps volunteers.
“Our lives should not be a brief flickering candle, but a blowing torch emanating the life of Christ to all we encounter,” he said. “We should do our best to keep that torch burning all our lives and pass that torch on to the next generation.”
Sacred Heart Church contributed $5,000 toward the Jinotega medical mission, and Father Lincoln said he would help IMAHelps raise additional funds to cover its medical mission costs for in-country transportation, logistics and medical supplies in Nicaragua. He also plans to join other volunteers from Sacred Heart Church the group organizes its next medical mission in Cuzco, Peru, next summer. For more information on IMAHelps or to make a direct donation to the group, which is solely comprised of volunteers with no paid staff, please visit www.imahelps.org.