An annual service-learning experience that has close ties to the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) celebrates its 50th year.

Since 1969, a team of physicians, nurses, learners and assistants—many affiliated with the DFMCH—have traveled to rural Honduras each March to provide free prolotherapy services for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain, and to teach prolotherapy to clinicians from around the world.

Prolotherapy is an injection-based outpatient therapy that’s has been practiced for over a century. It can help decrease the impact of chronic musculoskeletal pain due to osteoarthritis, overuse syndromes, trauma and sports injuries. The DFMCH has been a hub for clinical and research expertise in prolotherapy for decades.

Scenes from the 2019 Honduras prolotherapy trip

DFMCH Clinical Assistant Professor Michael Weber, MD, discusses foot anatomy as it relates to prolotherapy treatment at one of the Honduras clinic sites.
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First Trip Launched in 1969

The idea for the Honduras prolotherapy trip was sparked in 1968, when Chicago surgeon and prolotherapy expert Gus Hemwall, MD, met a Honduran physician at a U.S. medical meeting. This physician also happened to be the vice president of Honduras, and he invited Dr. Hemwall to bring prolotherapy to the country.

In 1969, Dr. Hemwall established the Hackett Foundation in honor of his mentor, prolotherapy pioneer Dr. George Hackett, and through it, launched the first trip to La Ceiba, Honduras.

Dr. Hemwall first invited the late Jeffrey Patterson, DO (1946-2014), a member of the DFMCH faculty for over 35 years, to participate in the Honduras trip in 1987. A few years later, Dr. Patterson began directing the annual trip and later became president of what is today known as the Hackett Hemwall Patterson Foundation (HHPF).

Three Clinics Serving Over 1,200 People

The two-week Honduras experience begins with a full day of didactic lectures on prolotherapy techniques and safety.

Participants then set up clinics in three sites—the original location in the port city of La Ceiba, plus two additional sites in the rural towns of Tela and Olanchito— using a Red Cross building, church and community center as facilities. They work closely with people from local organizations who help with outreach, registration, triage and translation.

According to DFMCH Associate Professor and HHPF board member and immediate past president David Rabago, MD, and HHPF Vice President Mary Doherty, the team provides services for 1,200 to 1,500 people per trip.

They also estimate that 800 learners from 30 countries, including about 50 Honduran resident physicians, have participated in the program since 2004.

Gallagher Scholarship Supports Participation

One physician who has frequently participated in the Honduras trip found a way to make the experience more accessible for physicians in training.

In 2015, Martin Gallagher, MD, DC, MS, and Charlotte Ciotti Gallagher, MS, DC, created the Dr. Martin and Charlotte Gallagher Scholarship for Prolotherapy.

The scholarship supports participation in the Honduras trip and/or the required Annual Prolotherapy Conference and Research Symposium, held the preceding October and sponsored by the HHPF, the DFMCH and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s Office of Continuing Professional Development.

Three DFMCH learners—Milwaukee resident Joseph Vogelgesang, DO, and academic integrative health fellows Jared Dubey, DO, and Parker Hoerz, MD—each received Gallagher scholarships in 2019. All three participated in the Honduras trip this past March.

“It was a fantastic learning experience,” reflects Hoerz. “The high quality and intensity helped me progress from beginner to competent very quickly.”

Dubey echoes that sentiment. “The trip was invaluable as a hands-on learning opportunity and service experience,” he recalls. “The people, the quality of teaching, and the patients were all fantastic. I’d go again in a heartbeat.”

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Published: June 2019