Tribute to Dr. David Rodriguez

A wall at the Boulder Community Hospital commemorates the Mission to Mante and Dr. David Rodriguez’s legacy.

by Darryl J. Brown, Boulder Community Health

It is with deep sadness that I relay the passing of Dr. David Rodriguez the founder of the Mante Medical Mission which BCH participated in for many years.  David passed away February 12, 2021 and was a friend to the people of Boulder and in particular those many from Boulder Community Health who served on the annual medical missions.  

“Dr. David”, as he was known by many from BCH, became an admired and appreciated person for other contributions he made in Mexico.  He had a free medical clinic, was instrumental in starting a nursing school, supported a special needs school and an orphanage.  Each week he made a 7-hour trip into the mountains offering medical care in a village that has no electricity and no medical care.

Jean Bedell, who authored the daily update of the mission (“the Full Mante”) tells the story: In April 1990, Dr David Rodriguez came from Cd Mante, Tampaulipas, Mexico and spoke with members of First Presbyterian Church.  These included Dave Gehant, Dr Stan Brenton, Dr Ted Appel, Dr Dick Bedell and Elfa Rodriguez (sister of Dr David).  He spoke about the lack of adequate medical care in Cd Mante and a request for help from Boulder.  Dave Gehant, CEO of Boulder Community Hospital at that time, grabbed hold of this need and in November 1990, a team of 23 went to Mante.  The first year there was a co-sponsorship between BCH, Boulder Rotary, and First Presbyterian Church.  This was the first of 20 years of service to the low-income people of Mante.  Each year the team grew in numbers and skills until 2010 when 100 peoplemade the trip.  Professional services offered included cataract repairs, general surgery, plasticsurgery, gynecology, pediatrics, physical therapy, and speech therapy.   During each year, Dr David screened over 10,000 potential patients on the basis of income, and appropriateness for treatment.  Each year approximately 6000 patients were seen and 600 surgical procedures were performed.   

Dr. Rodriguez was quoted in 2009 as he welcomed the members of the medical campaign that year to Mante: “Our relationship began on a professional basis, but our relationship is now deeply personal”.  The annual medical mission continued for 20 years but had to be halted in 2011 due to drug related gang violence in the Mante region.  Several attempts to restart the campaign were thwarted by the continuing violence.  

The medical teams made a tremendous contribution in improving the health of the citizens of Mante, Mexico.  Thousands of people were directly served by this highly skilled team of medical professionals. The benefit to the people of Mante has been incredible.

Mante Medical Campaign display:  On Feb. 27, 2015, Boulder Community Health formally dedicated a permanent display to honor the 20-year medical campaign to Mante.  The display is located on the third floor of the original hospital building in the Foothills campus.

The display depicts several scenes from the medical campaign over the years, it honors the founder, Dr. David Rodriguez, Sr. and lists the over 300 volunteers who in one or multiple years traveled to Mante to be part of this campaign to serve those in need in the Mante area.

Dr. David Rodriguez was a true humanitarian and will be missed greatly.  

Una passion, server Un anhelo, progresar

A passion to serve, a yearning to progress

Una gota de agua, cuando cae al mar, ya no es gota…es mar

When a drop of water falls into the sea, it is no longer a drop of water but becomes part of the sea

Boulder Sister City Leaders Report that Mante Feels as Safe as Boulder, After Visit

Pam and Norris meet with the teacher exchange group
Pam and Norris meet with the teacher exchange group

The new logo for Mante
The new logo for Mante

Norris and Pam attend the Mante Rotary Club Valentine Day celebration
Norris and Pam attend the Mante Rotary Club Valentine Day celebration

Pam and Norris receive a plate from the Mante Sister City committee. It contains the quote "True brotherhood does not require blood ties." - Jose Narosky
Pam and Norris receive a plate from the Mante Sister City committee. It contains the quote “True brotherhood does not require blood ties.” – Jose Narosky

Over a five day period, February 18-22, 2017 Norris Hermsmeyer and Pam Hyink, President and Secretary, respectively, of the Boulder Mante Sister City committee returned for a visit to Mante to investigate safety conditions and discuss opportunities for reengaging with the Mante community. Through their trip, Norris and Pam found that four common myths about Mante and the sister city relationship are false. Moreover, life in Mante has returned to normal and is safe.

The Boulder Community Hospital suspended its annual medical campaign to Mante in 2011, citing a spike in drug-related gang activity in the Mante area. In concurrence with that decision, the Boulder-Mante Sister City committee also suspended visits to its sister city in Mexico. Since then, there have been several medical, cultural and teacher visitations by our friends from Mante to Boulder.

Myth #1: While conditions seem safe, people, particularly women, did not go out at night.

During the period from 2010 to 2014, the people of Mante drastically changed their lifestyle because of the gang related activity in the area. Most businesses closed down when it became dark and folks hunkered down in their homes until the following morning. Conditions have slowly changed in the past three years and conditions have returned to a normal state. Norris and Pam arrived in Mante on a Saturday evening to find a crowd of some 300 or so Mante folks gathered for entertainment in the main plaza area. Numerous vendors offered food service to the crowds. As we drove around the community later we noted some restaurants open past ten, a couple of 7-11 type stores and pharmacy’s that were open twenty-four hours per day.

When asked about the myth that women do not go out at night, or if they do go out at night they would not go alone, we learned that women, often accompanied with their children to be out at night in Mante. Most women would feel safe driving between communities or to the border at night, but would probably plan those trips in daylight.

In part, to support the safety of the community, some 800 military members are stationed throughout the Mante regional area.

Myth #2: During the term of the medical campaign, doctors from Boulder were not able to interact and teach their counterparts in Mante.

Dr. Carlos Manrique (ObGyn), who participated in the first medical campaign in 1990 and most of the medical campaigns there after stated that he grew very fond of Dr. Ted Appel of Boulder in the early years of the campaign. He stated that he learned so much from his Boulder counterpart, particularly by exposure to medical equipment which was not available in Mexico. He further states that he was more than happy to share what he learned with his colleagues after participating in each campaign.

In the years since BCH suspended the medical campaign in Mante, they have on numerous occasions sent cataracts kits to Mante, recognizing that cataracts are a major problem in the Mante area. Until recently it was not common for workers in the sugar cane fields to wear sunglasses when they were working in the fields. There are no doctors of ophthalmology who can perform this surgery in Mante. The kits have been directed by the DIF (county health) to medical personnel in Victoria or Monterrey to be used to assist the poor from the Mante area who need the cataract lenses to restore proper eyesight.

It was suggested by local leadership that should BCH or other medical teams consider return to Mante in the coming year, or so, that a priority would be for skilled practitioners of ophthamology.

From several sources we learned of the need for maintenance assistance for medical equipment that the local hospital has, which is inoperable. Technical assistance does not exist anywhere in the state. Qualified technicians in Mexico City are too wedded to their own hospitals to be made available elsewhere in the country. It is suggested that use of “facetime connections” between BCH and the Mante Civil Hospital might correct some of the problems with equipment in Mante

Good news does exist. A used Special Transit (now Via) vehicle which provides a hydraulic lift for wheelchairs that was donated some 7-8 years ago is still in operation providing transportation needs in Mante. A dental van which was donated through a Rotary Foundation grant to the DIF (county health) is still in operation. A “jars of life” unit donated to the Mante Red Cross by Boulder rescue has been called into service on many occasions over the years to provide extraction from vehicle accidents.

One of the saddest reports we learned was the failure of the mammography van donated by BCH to operate. The greater story is that no useable equipment exists in Mante to provide for early breast cancer detection. The only medical practitioner in the field of oncology in Mante is a retired (but active volunteer) medical doctor who would be anxious to learn current medical practices and support techniques for men and women in her community dealing with cancer.

Myth #3:  Since Boulder visitors have not returned for so many years, Mante has sort of forgotten about its sister city relationship with Boulder.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was stated over the years that the medical campaign involved some 300 volunteers in the Mante area to host the medical campaign. Probably the greatest number of those volunteers served as host families for the medical team from Boulder. Close personal relationships developed which continue through email and Facebook connections today.

Of the bonds that have been created, the bonds developed between teachers from Boulder and Mante are probably the strongest. Meetings during this visitation highlighted that teachers from Mante as well as Boulder hope the exchanges between the teachers can be reignited soon, if not this year, at least in 2018.

Myth #4: During the bad years, people of Mante did not feel safe, even to the point of not going to church.

In the culture of Mexico, this is easily not the case. Churches of Protestant and Catholic denominations continued their services throughout this time, possibly avoiding nighttime mass.

There are two active Rotary Clubs in Mante, the Mante and the Canoas Rotary Clubs which continued to meet throughout the entire period of unrest.

Things in Mante are the same, yet Mante has kept up with the times. An offshoot of Wal-Mart now exists in Mante, some new pharmacy businesses and new restaurants. Yet the plaza looks very much the same and the shops in the business area are very much alive with activity. We noted that the roads to Tampico and Victoria were in very good condition and that litter along the roads is much reduced as the people of Tamaulipas take on greater responsibility for the cleanliness of their communities.

Norris and Pam would both vouch for the fact that they felt as safe in Mante as they would feel in Boulder. It is hoped that teachers, medical teams and cultural exchanges between the communities can commence again with all parties feeling safe if basic measures are followed.

Thee Boulder Mante Sister City relationship is an outgrowth of an annual medical campaign to Ciudad de Mante, Mexico developed by Boulder Community Hospital (Health–BCH) and several outreach programs with Boulder Rotary and First Presbyterian Church in Boulder.   Boulder City council approved the relationship on December 7, 1999. A formal proclamation uniting the cities of Mante and Boulder was signed in Mante in January, 2000 and again in Boulder on July 7, 2000 at Folsom Stadium.

Shortly after the medical team had been in Mante in 2010, reports became available of drug related gang activity in the Mante area. After monitoring the situation for several months, Boulder Community suspended the 2011 medical campaign and put on hold returning to Mante until safety issues were no longer an issue. In concurrence with that decision, the Boulder-Mante Sister City committee also suspended visits to its sister city in Mexico. During the interim period there have been several medical, cultural and teacher visitations by our friends from Mante to Boulder.

Mante Mayor Visit to Boulder Profiled in Mante Newspaper

The Eco, a Mante newspaper, featured a visit by the Municipal President of Mante, Pablo A. González León, to Boulder. The article includes a photo of the Municipal President, his wife, and members of the Boulder-Mante Sister City Committee in front of a mural painted by Mante muralist Florian Lopez, which was commissioned in 2001 commemorate the lasting bod between the two cities.

Florian Lopez had this to say about the article:

Es emocionante ver en tu periódico a mis amigos de Boulder: Norris Hermsmeyer y la Maestra Elfa Rodríguez acompañando al Ing. Pablo A. González León, Presidente Municipal de El Mante y a su esposa frente al mural que pinté en el 2001 en Colorado. Qué afortunada obra, realmente pequeña, junto a esa maravillosa campaña médica que duró 20 años beneficiando a miles de personas necesitadas. Por algunos días me pregunté si valía la pena pintar lejos de la familia y los amigos, pensé que mi esfuerzo sería ignorado como tantos proyectos. Ojalá mis amigos Chan Mortimer y su esposa tengan la oportunidad de conocer las esculturas y artesanías que comencé a pintar en su jardín.

Translation: It is exciting to see my friends from Boulder in your newspaper: Norris Hermsmeyer and the teacher Elfa Rodríguez accompanying the Municipal President of Mante, Pablo A. González León, and his wife against the mural I painted in 2001 in Colorado. What lucky piece, really small, next to that wonderful medical campaign that lasted 20 years benefiting thousands of needy people. Some days I wondered if it was worth painting away from family and friends, I thought that my efforts would be ignored as so many projects. I wish my friends Chan Mortimer and his wife have the opportunity to see the sculptures and crafts that I started painting in his garden.

Daily Camera: Drug violence leads Boulder hospital to cancel Mante medical trip

By Erica Meltzer Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/30/2010 09:22:06 PM MST

The drug violence that has wracked Mexico in recent years has caused Boulder Community Hospital to cancel its annual medical mission to Mante.

This February will be the first time since 1990 that a team of volunteers, organized through Boulder Community Hospital, won’t visit the small Mexican city to provide medical care ranging from the repair of cleft palates to the distribution of eyeglasses.

Read More: http://www.dailycamera.com/boulder-county-news/ci_16746569

Council Member Rich Lopez Blogs on Decision to Cancel 2011 Medical Campaign

In a Boulder Daily Camera blog post, former Boulder City Council member and Boulder-Mante Sister City Project member Rich Lopez explains the Boulder Community Hospital’s decision to cancel the 2011 medical campaign. For almost 20 years, the annual campaign provided much-needed medical treatment to underserved communities in Mante and surrounding areas and served as the backbone of the relationship between the two cities. One can only hope that the recent spike in drug cartel related violence will subside so that the campaign can resume its good work. Here’s what Rich had to say:

A few weeks after the BCH Mante Medical Mission team returned home, two drug cartels moved into Mante. The peaceful streets of Mante became battlegrounds as these two cartels fought each other. Bodies were left in the streets. Citizens were forced to change their daily lives to avoid the dangers that were present. Streets were empty after 6 P.M.. The cartels had moved into town, occupying some of the wealthier homes.

In March, a group of teachers traveled from Mante to Boulder as part of the Teacher Exchange Program. At that time we first learned just how dangerous Mante had become. Imagine the Boulder Police Chief advising all citizens not to bother calling 911 after dark, because no officers will respond. The teachers reminded us that these strangers had invaded Mante. Once they leave, Mante will become peaceful once again.

Boulder Community Hospital began monitoring the situation in Mante in early March. Various team members continued to contact friends in Mante for updates. The violence between the two drug cartels continued and seemed to be concentrated in other cities such as Matamoros, Reynosa and Victoria, the state capital. We continued to plan for the 2011 medical mission, hoping that the violence would end.

Finally, on July 26, 2010, David Gehant BCH CEO decided to cancel the 2011 mission. He called Dr. David Rodriguez and explained that he needed to cancel the mission because there was no way to guarantee the safety of the 100 medical personnel that comprise our team. He told Dr. Rodriguez that we intend to return in 2012 or possibly late in 2011 if conditions improved. This was a difficult decision, because our team members voluntarily travel to Mante to provide much needed medical care for thousands of citizens who cannot afford medical care. We know that many of the team members would travel to Mante despite the violence, but sending a large team was too risky.

I don’t know what will happen to Ciudad Mante. A close friend recently emailed his description of life in Mante. “Our daily lives have been affected by all this violence; we don’t go out late at night, we don’t travel at night on highways, etc. We are getting use to the presence of soldiers in town and we learn of incidents now and then; although it was a lot more difficult in Mante about two-three months ago…..Thank you for your concern and blessings. Meanwhile, Dr. David Rodriguez continues to tend to the thousands of people who patiently wait for the return of the medical team.

THE FULL MANTE Vol 12, No 8

By Jean Bedell
Read more posts by Jean

Our trip has ended. After waiting for 1-1/2 hours at the airport in Tampico for the fog to lift we had a safe, smooth flight Tampico-Houston-Denver. Oh, yes, there was one challenge. How does one convince an employee that one suitcase 3 lbs over 50 averages with one suitcase 3 lbs under 50 and there should be no extra charges? The last day is spent with final surgeries and patients and then (ugh) packing, and labeling, separating those things to bring back to Boulder, and those things to be stored securely in Mante. By 1:30, the last patient was seen, rooms emptied, doors locked, and trucks loaded. Continue reading “THE FULL MANTE Vol 12, No 8”

Milagros

By Rich Lopez
Visit his blog on The Daily Camera

sunmoon

February 17, 2010: Miracles do happen.

Virginia is a 32 year-old woman with three children. She’s been deaf for her entire life. Over time she learned to read lips. However, the limits of reading lips meant she couldn’t hear her baby crying in another room. She spent her life finding ways to deal with her limitations. Fortunately, she had a husband who loved her unconditionally. Still, she always hoped that there might come a day when she could hear. That day was today. Continue reading “Milagros”

Una gota de agua

By Rich Lopez
Visit his blog on The Daily Camera

February 16, 2010: Yesterday was a dichotomy between treating patients is horrible conditions and the pomp of speeches and ceremonies. Both are important, but the day presented the Clinic team with many challenges. The temperature fell to the low 50’s and the blustery wind created a bone chilling environment. The Clinic patients sit in school chairs outside, usually under the shade of large tents to protect them from the sun or rain. Patients were ill-prepared for the cold and arrived with sweaters or light jackets at best. This is Mante remember. It is rarely cold, but yesterday was different. Patients shivered quietly waiting their turn to speak to a doctor. The triage team filled out the patient information forms, translating from Spanish to English. Elderly patients shivered uncontrollably. When it came time to take their blood pressure, they were asked to remove their jackets. Continue reading “Una gota de agua”