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A trip to a tropical country results in much gratitude for Thanksgiving

What's on your "what I'm thankful for" list this Thanksgiving? On a trip to Central America, Viv Williams visits a vibrant health clinic and adds the team she met there to her gratitude list. Find out why in this NewsMD, "Health Fusion" column.

A little Central American girl in blue smiles
A little girl in blue is one of the many smiling faces Viv Williams met in Central America.
Viv Williams / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — During the week of Thanksgiving, there's no doubt a surge in the number of people who take a few moments to reflect about gratitude.

When my family and friends gather around the holiday table, each person lists a few things for which they're grateful before digging into the feast. And each year, the items on our "what I'm grateful for" lists represent recurring themes: pets, friends and family, food, shelter, love and peace. This year, I'm adding another item to my list. I'm grateful that there are people on this earth who are passionate about service to others.

Last week, I traveled to Nicaragua with a small team of volunteers to tour a local health clinic and see how we could be of help to them. The organizer of the group has pretty much dedicated his life to helping others, especially in areas of the world that have experienced disaster. He's amazing. So when my friend Chip Duncan invited me to join the group heading to Nicaragua, I said yes.

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Our little group included a writer (Chip), two physicians, a yoga and mindfulness instructor, an organic gardener, a public health specialist, a health care coordinator and a health information communicator (me). When we arrived at the clinic, the staff showed us around the grounds, which included an open-air waiting area, a few patient rooms, a small pharmacy stocked with barely the basics, a water purification system that supplied area schools and community centers with clean drinking water and an organic garden geared toward helping people get more fresh foods in their diets.

The tour didn't take very long, because it wasn't very big and they didn't have the state-of-the art medical supplies and equipment we're used to seeing at clinics in the United States. In fact, they didn't have very much at all.


But while they lacked in resources, they overflowed with in dedication, compassion, knowledge and teamwork. Nothing was going to stop them from helping patients at the clinic and the surrounding rural community get access to health care.

In my view, that local clinic team represents the very best medicine has to offer — a committed staff working together to do whatever they can to help people with whatever they have. When we went with them to a makeshift country clinic that served 85 people who arrived on foot, on horseback or in ox-drawn carts, everyone was smiling. Nobody ever complained. Patients trusted the clinic team and vice versa.

It seems that in our country, this model is sometimes flip-flopped. We have the best medical care and the most medical resources in the world, but we sometimes can't or won't work together to bring those tools to people who need them in the most effective ways possible. I know it's complicated and I'm not saying that we'd be better off without our current health care system and I'm not blaming anybody. (Believe me, I am extremely grateful for treatments that have saved some of my loved ones and thankful for the many dedicated health care professionals who work ridiculous hours to better the lives of others).

But I am saying that we should be immensely grateful for the resources we have. And we should strive to do what we can to close health care gaps so that everyone in our country may benefit from and have access to the exceptional medical tools, information and treatments available here.

So at this year's Thanksgiving table, I'll add a few things to my "what I'm grateful for" list: clean water, the opportunity to learn from a medical team in a different country and meet people (patents) there and the fact that I believe that health and medical experts in the U.S. — despite the complicated issues that may exist — are working towards health care for everyone.


Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

When temps drop and days shorten in the fall, are you temped to hibernate and stay in bed a little longer? In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams shares what experts now know about a possible connection between how early you wake up and your risk of depression.

Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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