Peconic Bay Medical Center clinicians reflect on recent medical mission to El Salvador

Jaclyn Chotowicky, an acute-care nurse practitioner at Riverhead’s Peconic Bay Medical Center, returned from her first medical mission in El Salvador with a new perspective.

“It definitely makes you feel very humbled coming back here, because they live very modestly compared to all of us,” she said. “They take each day for what it’s worth.”

Ms. Chotowicky was one of a team of PBMC clinicians, including a doctor of osteopathic medicine, a physician’s assistant, a nurse practitioner and two registered nurses, who joined Dr. Agostino Cervone, the hospital’s director of robotic surgery, on the trip to El Salvador. The team traveled to the David V. King Medical Center in Jucuapa, El Salvador in late January to provide sorely needed medical services for underserved patients with little to no access to advanced medical care. 

Dr. Cervone first led a trip to the medical center in 2018, but this was his first trip back since the pandemic. The program is in partnership with Medical Mission International and the board of the King Center. 

“When we come to Jucuapa to provide much-needed medical care, we understand that for these people living in a developing nation, sometimes it is necessary to make the difficult choice between food and medical treatment,” Dr. Cervone said. “They won’t seek out medical treatment unless it’s a life-or-death situation. It’s unfortunate because here in the States, we do a lot of preventative medicine. There, unless residents have access to a clinic like this where it’s low cost, and the clinic only asks $4 for an evaluation, they’re not going to get healthcare.”

Dr. Agostino Cervone and Jaclyn Chotowicky during the medical mission to El Salvador. (Courtesy photo)

Ms. Chotowicky and her colleagues would start their day at 7:30 a.m. and work until around 3 p.m. The group performed a total of 102 procedures on 80 patients at the clinic who were all able to return home the same day.

When asked what made the biggest impression on her, Ms. Chotowicky said “the interaction with the patients before and after and being able to see how they were so happy and so thankful for everything that we did,” Ms. Chotowicky said. “I got to improve on my skill level but being able to change and impact someone’s life that normally wouldn’t receive this [care], and that they’re experiencing pain for such a long period of time, was definitely very impactful and I think that COVID and going through all that drained a lot of us, so it definitely filled my cup up,” she said.

PBMC supplied the team with equipment and supplies to help make the initiative successful. The hospital ensured the King Clinic was left with a surplus of surgical and medical supplies to help support residents in need of treatment.

“Here at PBMC we do not take for granted the quality of health care we are able to provide with our program, technology and staffing,” said the hospital’s executive director, Amy Loeb. “I’m blown away by the commitment of our team to helping others, not just here on Long Island, but also outside of the country. As we continue to expand access to much needed health care back at home, we’re privileged to be able to send out doctors abroad to also tackle healthcare disparities.”

Dr. Cervone plans to return to El Salvador in 2024 and Ms. Chotowicky hopes to be part of the team. 

“I would love to continue to do this every single year,” she said.