Watch CBS News

SFFD medics, SJ Good Samaritan staffers see hundreds of needy patients on El Salvador medical mission

SAN JULIÁN, El Salvador -- A group of Bay Area medical professionals took time out of their normally busy schedules to see a flood of needy patients over the course of a week-long medical mission in El Salvador.

The group of 73 volunteers included doctors, nurses and staffers from Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose along with medics from the San Francisco Fire Department Station 49. It also included interpreters and support staff in a project put together by The Castañeda Kids Foundation, a charity based in Roseville, Calif.

The medical mission was conducted the week of Feb. 20 in two rural communities in El Salvador, where the foundation was originally started by a native Salvadoran couple whose San Francisco-born adult children and family now carry on the charity's work.  

Over the course of five days, some 2,800 patients lined up for hours in the tropical heat of El Salvador for the opportunity to see a medical professional. Many of those patients trekked for hours from far-flung hamlets on buses, in pickup trucks, or simply walked.

El Salvador medical mission
People arrive in the back of a box truck to receive care at a medical mission in San Julián, El Salvador, February 21, 2023. The Castañeda Kids Foundation

Once at the site where the mission was set up, the patients were triaged and interviewed by medics and nurses who would then refer them to a doctor depending on their specific issue. Patients of all ages also received sorely-needed prescription drugs, pain medications, and vitamins, along with information on preventative health care. In many cases, it was the first time the patient had seen a medical professional in years, or the first time a young mother and baby had received postpartum care.

Many of the people seen were suffering from the effects of malnutrition and lack of access to clean water as well as unchecked conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

"The people we attend to pretty much have to make a decision on whether to spend money on health care, if they can get it, or put food on their table," said Carlos Martinez, president of The Castañeda Kids Foundation. "A lot of them also don't know about how to take care of their health, and we try to at least give them the knowledge about the things that are contributing to their illnesses so they can work on changing their habits."

Several of the doctors and nurses on the medical mission also brought along members of their families to work as support staff during the mission.

"This was the third mission that my teenage son and I participated in. Over and over, we experienced genuine gratitude from our patients thanking us repeatedly for taking time out to travel to El Salvador to help care for them," said Good Samaritan emergency physician Dr. Tiffany Hackett. "Even when our supplies ran low and we had fewer medications to offer them, patients would squeeze my hand in thanks; this experience very much touched my heart. [My son] gained a sense of self, was integrated into the team, and saw life thru the eyes of those less fortunate." 

El Salvador medical mission
Dr. Ireneé Duncan (left) and Dr. Tiffany Hackett treat a patient during a medical mission in San Pablo Tacachico, El Salvador, February 20, 2023. The Castañeda Kids Foundation

"I have been so impressed by The Castañeda Kids Foundation's commitment to serving the needy in El Salvador that I returned for my fourth medical mission this year," said Durham VA Medical Center attending surgeon Dr. Ireneé Duncan. "I return home feeling humbled by the gratitude shown to us by the people of El Salvador. It is a privilege to serve with this organization."

Aside from medical missions, The Castañeda Kids Foundation provides scholarships, holiday food baskets, and sports and music equipment and instruction to youths who have never had the opportunity to participate. For more information on the group's charity work, visit

CBS News San Francisco senior editor Carlos Castañeda is a member of The Castañeda Kids Foundation.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.