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(USAF photo by Senior Airman Meredith A. H. Thomas, 916 ARW/PA)
SEBACO, NICARAGUA -- Lt. Col. Dawn Moore, mission commander for the Medical Readiness Exercise (MEDRETE) here, presents a special coin Aug. 10, 2011 to Antonella Espinoza, a local 12-year-old student. Espinoza volunteered to act as a translator for the medical team at the Sebaco site after being treated herself for allergies. (USAF photo by Senior Airman Meredith A. H. Thomas, 916 ARW/PA)
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Helping them help: Local girl, patient turns interpreter

Posted 8/16/2011   Updated 8/16/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Meredith Thomas
916th ARW Public Affairs Office

8/16/2011 - SÉBACO, NICARAGUA  -- The word for 'doctor' may be similar in both English and Spanish but many words are not, and that difference in language can make it difficult for the English-speaking medical team here to effectively treat the thousand or so patients they see every day during their Medical Readiness Exercise (MEDRETE). And even though the team has been working closely with a local group of 9 or 10 translators, there often aren't enough to go around. That's why one provider in the pediatric clinic lucked out when one of her patients offered to volunteer as an interpreter after her check-up.

Antonella Espinoza, a 12-year-old girl from a small Nicaraguan community, visited the Sébaco MEDRETE site Aug. 8 with her mother to find relief from her allergies. During her treatment she found that her ability to speak both languages fluently provided her with a unique opportunity to help.

"While we were waiting we saw a woman who didn't understand English," Espinoza said. "My mother said, 'Go help her, Antonella,' and that's when I started."

Espinoza spent the next three days assisting Lt. Col. Iris Eisenberg, a physician with the MEDRETE pediatric clinic here, and others in their interactions with local citizens seeking medical aid. The young girl translated the patients' complaints, simple directions from the doctor and instructions for taking any prescribed medications.

"She's tripled my efficiency over the past couple of days," Eisenberg said. "And she's scary smart."

The girl's hard work was so appreciated that the MEDRETE mission commander, Lt. Col. Dawn Moore, organized a ceremony to recognize Espinoza's achievements and award her with a special medical coin. Moore is a reservist with the 927th Air Refueling Wing's Aeromedical Staging Squadron, based at MacDill AFB, Fla.

"In the Air Force we have a tradition of giving a coin to someone who has done an outstanding job," Moore said. "You truly have done an outstanding job helping us here. This is our way of saying, 'gracias.'"

Espinoza learned to speak English during the four years she spent living in Miami with her family. She said she gained a lot from her experience with the Air Force Reserve medical team and is even aspiring to become a pediatrician when she gets older.

"I like helping," said Espinoza. "So, any way I can help, I do it."

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