Dr. Mary Schwieters of Melrose has always desired to simply be useful in whatever way she could. One of the ways she did this recently was by spending the month of October in Honduras, using her medical training and compassionate heart.
She grew up in Montevideo. Between college and medical school, she wanted to spend some time in an overseas location somewhere, helping others.
“The Peace Corps was a two-and-a-half-year commitment and I wanted to be gone for a year. I found the name of the orphanage at the campus ministry office at St. John’s,” said Mary.
She really had no idea what that year would involve. She was on the mainland, near Tegucigalpa. She worked at an orphanage for much of the time, also serving at a medical clinic.
“It feels good to be useful; I’m not content unless I’m being useful somewhere,” she said.
After graduating from medical school and completing her residency in 1999, she and her husband, Kurt, also a physician, both began practicing in Melrose.
Mary is a family medicine doctor. She was the first female practitioner in Melrose. She is also bilingual, speaking English and Spanish. She worked part-time at first, which worked well until the three children were into the junior high years.
“There were so many activities. And sometimes when I got called to the hospital, Kurt was also working and we had to drag the kids to the hospital,” Mary said.
She quit her practice in 2009. To keep busy and remain useful, she started doing infant foster care for babies with medical issues or those who had been severely abused. During the next several years, she fostered eight babies.
More recently, she he went back to work as a locum tenens, which is a substitute doctor – not unlike a substitute teacher. She spent a few years working to get a CentraCare clinic set up at St. John’s University.
“Now that I’m doing locums, I have the flexibility to go on mission trips,” she said.
When COVID hit, Honduras was completely unprepared. Mary saw on Facebook that they needed volunteers. She set aside the month of October and with her family’s support, went to work in Roatán at Clinica Esperanza, a clinic for the poor.
“It was a good fit, since I speak Spanish. Also, they hire young doctors and I was able to do some teaching, using my years of experience. They were pretty swamped, and I could help lighten their load” said Mary.
Roatán is an island off the coast of Honduras. As tourism is the main industry, and the island was shut down due to the pandemic, things were very difficult for residents.
Before she went, Mary had posted on Facebook a request for homemade masks.
“People gave more than 1,000 masks for me to take! The people in Honduras love them and were so appreciative,” she said.
The month began with frustration, as there was nowhere in the clinic to wash hands. Cats were running around loose and things were not organized well.
“Things got smoother. As other people were so busy, I had time to hold the hand of people who were dying and comfort them,” said Mary.
Jan. 1, 2021, she and Kurt will both be going to Honduras for three months. They are fortunate to have a condominium there. Kurt will be on sabbatical during that time, and Mary will be going back to the clinic.
This time, she could use donations of blood pressure cuffs, glucose test strips, and cash to purchase other needed supplies.
“I have medical knowledge and the ability to take a month off and go,” Mary said. “I believe everyone has a gift, a skill, and should use it.”