The town of El Fuerte, Mexico, nestled between the Sea of Cortez and Copper Canyon, is no stranger to its heroes. After all, the town is the home to the origin of the legendary hero of the people, Zorro, known as the “Fox” in Mexico. The fact remains that the residents of El Fuerte still need heroes today. Located in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, the area is surrounded by notorious drug cartels. Poverty is a major concern and many of the people of El Fuerte, especially the children, are malnourished and in need of medical attention.

Enter LIGA (Spanish for league) and the Flying Doctors of Mercy. Since 1934, these volunteers have been the protectors of the oppressed in El Fuerte as well as other locations where the need for medical assistance is great.  The Flying Doctors of Mercy have been creating miracles deep in the heart of Mexico, where only the employed can afford medical and dental care. With modern donated equipment, LIGA volunteers treat tens of thousands of people every year, and provide millions of dollars in services to the local people. LIGA consists of audiologists, physicians, surgeons, podiatrists, anesthetists, nurses, translators and others from all corners of the globe. Dedicated professionals depart in aircraft from California, Arizona and Nevada for their flights to historic El Fuerte. Even the pilots, many volunteering their time and their aircraft, pitch in to help complete the missions.            Diehl- Mexican kids

A number of local doctors and nurses have a share in this life saving work. Dr. Craig Diehl, a pediatrician who has been helping families grow for the past 25 years in Lake Havasu, is one of those volunteers. “I love working with kids, and I feel they deserve a break in life—they don’t have to be sick due to lack of medical care,” explains Diehl.  When Diehl first heard about the Flying Doctors of Mercy about three years ago, he knew he wanted to pitch in.

Dr. Diehl shares his first experience with LIGA, “It was a little intimidating. We had to check in at customs in Mexico, and you’re in a small plane, and you’re greeted at the small airport by the locals—soldiers with rifles. I don’t speak Spanish, so everything was handled through an interpreter.” El Fuerte is a small town, maybe 30,000 people, deep in the heart of drug cartel country. And yet, notes Diehl, “The people are as warm and friendly as you will ever find. They’re also very appreciative of the medical assistance.” In the rural parts of Mexico, many families can’t afford to take their kids to a doctor unless it is a dire situation. “I usually see kids that are malnourished, have parasites, or may have been born with heart defects.” The first time he went down to the clinic, he was shocked by the sight of 300 to 400 people standing in line waiting to see the doctors and nurses. “I couldn’t believe how many children there were. In a way, it’s heartbreaking to see young kids so sick—especially when some antibiotics or vitamins can really help out.” Diehl explains that the arrival in town of the Flying Doctors of Mercy is a really big deal. A local DJ in town announces over the radio that the doctors are going to be in town and what types of doctors. “I guess that explained why there where so many kids at the clinic when I went down. Knowing a pediatrician was in town was a big deal.”

KevinOR3  One of the exciting aspects of working the clinic in El Fuerte is that it is pure medicine. “In El Fuerte it’s all about the patient, there’s not a lot of legalities or paperwork, it is pure clinical medicine where I can see 50 or 60 patients in a day and its straight diagnosis and treatment.” Another aspect of working a clinic in a rural area in Mexico is seeing ailments that you might go an entire lifetime of practicing in the United States that you might never see. On my first trip to El Fuerte, my fourth patient, a young child, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. I’ve read about it, but in my 25 years of practicing in the states, I’ve never seen a single case.” Medicine transcends the language barrier in El Fuerte, “I don’t speak any Spanish, but the parents know that we’re all there to help and that we have the skills to properly diagnosis and treat their kids. The smiles on their faces tell me everything I needed to know.”

Want to know more about LIGA: Check them out at www.LIGAInternational.org