AGUA PRIETA, Sonora — Over the years, the Wings of Angels Foundation, based in Douglas, has provided assistance to countless people in the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.
Some people who receive help as a result of the efforts of Wings of Angels have stories that are very sad, yet inspirational and encouraging.
Jose Luis Pacheco, 43, who is deaf from birth, contracted leprosy, lost his legs and suffered severe neurological damage to his arms and hands. Unable to gather tin cans and wood for the family from his wheelchair, Wings of Angels and the Gilbert, Arizona, Rotarians provided him with an electric wheelchair and batteries. Recent testing declared that he is disease free.
And, prostheticist Sander Nassan, of Scottsdale, prepared bioengineered legs, suspended from a pelvic stabilizer, for Angel Enriquez, 10, who was born with one arm and no legs. Wings of Angels and Utah Rotarians prepared a winterized family room and tilled a garden area for Alicia, the mother who feeds her family from the produce she grows.
Noemi Noriega Torres and Sister Louise Marie Benecke are counterpart medical coordinators for Wings of Angels. Torres knows the community and is fluent in Spanish, while Benecke offers the holistic health care knowledge.
"Together we bring the appropriate personal healing touch needed, implement advocacy with the Agua Prieta agency officials and sow seeds of health development ideas with DIF (Mexico's family development agency) and the General Hospital officials," said Benecke.
Torres has been working with Wings of Angels since 2002, when she was invited by Marge Conroy. Benecke, a nurse practitioner who has worked in Yemen and the Navajo Reservation, was invited to Wings of Angels in November of 2010 by Jennifer Lakosil, a pediatric nurse practitioner who is the director of nursing and allied health at Cochise College.
Benecke and Torres work at the clinic, and also make routine house calls for those with the most catastrophic situations.
"Members of the team Lakosil originally called forth are still essential providers on the Wings of Angels team, Shirley Bayham Hicks, nurse practitioner and instructor at Cochise College, Marge Conroy, physical therapist, and Jane Bayham, who assists in documentation of care," said Benecke.
"Now the three other School Sisters of Notre Dame living with me also help on our clinic days, Sisters Judy Bourg, Christine Garcia, and Lucy Nigh. Three other blood Sisters assist us also: Maria Kirker, Yolanda Nora, and Gregoria Barca — all natives of the Agua Prieta-Douglas area," she added.
Ron Becker, of Colorado, collects donated medical equipment for Wings of Angels. To date, he has provided more than $300,000 in critically needed pieces for use by crippled adults and children, according to Dottee Watkins, president and CEO of Wings of Angels.
Wings of Angels was founded in 1998, although it did not have this particular name until later on. Conroy and Watkins held the first clinic in 2000. The organization operates on an annual budget of about $35,000.
In some cases, people who come to get medical treatment also have other needs, and Wings of Angels helps them with various projects, such as getting solar water heaters, making home repairs, or planting gardens.
Every month, there are new people who come to the clinic, said Torres. Some come from six hours away, like Rocky Point, or from places like Hermosillo, Sonora. Others come from the areas surrounding Agua Prieta.
"The people come because they get orthopedic things for free. Here in Mexico, it is very hard to get those machines and wheelchairs and braces. They are very expensive here in Mexico. The government has programs but they still charge. The very poor people can't afford a brace for their son," said Torres.
"I am Mexican and I live here. At the beginning, I did not know how much need there was in the town, until I got involved with the clinic and I started talking to the families and going to their houses. There are too many kids that need to be helped," she added.
Watkins pointed out Wings of Angels is not just a typical medical office. When people come to the clinic, they see the results. Their needs are responded to, they are taken care of, and they don't feel helpless anymore. Then, they tell their friends and family to go there for help.
"To me, part of the important dynamic is the persons who are coming at least use some motivation to get themselves there. So, they do have the desire for a better quality of life," said Benecke.
The total team enables Wings of Angels to provide the holistic health care that brings hope and healing to the patients, she added.
"Yeah, we give the aspirin or the Tylenol or the Advil or the ibuprofen, or we get them started on the diabetic meds, but why are they discouraged or why are they depressed? Well, you get at the heart of it usually by listening to their story. We give that personal touch. We do care," Benecke said.
For more information on Wings of Angels, visit http://wingsofangelsfoundation.org/principal.html.