Dr. Merlin Antúnez of Honduras to Shadow Dr. Jim Bruckner at Proliance Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine 
This fall, Proliance Orthopaedic Surgeons and Sports Medicine is hosting a very special shadowing experience. Dr. Merlin Antúnez—medical director of NPH Holy Family Surgery Center (HFSC), located just 30 minutes outside the Honduras capital of Tegucigalpa—is coming to shadow Dr. Jim Bruckner, an esteemed member of the Proliance practice. His purpose is to observe and add to his existing skills in orthopaedic surgery. During the visit, consisting of  an intense five days—all the time he can spare away from HFSC and his patients—Dr. Antúnez will shadow Dr. Bruckner during a “total hip day.” He will observe surgery procedures as well as protocols that help most patients go home 24 hours post-surgery. He will take his gifts of knowledge back to use in caring for his own patients at HFSC.

Merlin’s Path Toward NPH: Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos
Merlin Antúnez was not always a doctor. His young life was a difficult journey of deprivation and loss, until he was welcomed into the NPH Honduras family and given assets that still encourage him today. Merlin’s father was a farmer, his mother a housewife. Like so many others in Honduras, the second poorest country in Central America, his family could not afford schooling, medicine, or adequate food for their growing children. “As a result I became ill and ended up in the hospital many times,” he remembers. “I lost two brothers to treatable diseases before they reached the age of 1.” A shaman attended to his father when he developed Parkinson’s disease; the medical care and medication his father needed financially way out of reach. Soon after, Merlin’s parents divorced, his mother left, and his father was forced to put Merlin, age 6 at the time, and his two remaining brothers in an orphanage in Tegucigalpa. There, lacking in love, attention, guidance, and school supplies, the children’s lives and schooling stagnated.

On what Merlin considers the luckiest day of their lives, Reinhart Kohler, the cofounder of NPH Honduras, included him and his brothers in the first group of children at the NPH Honduras home. The changes and advantages were surprising and wonderful: his own bed; a warm breakfast; endless smiles and hugs; a stable, supportive environment all day every day; quality education; a sense of purpose and pride; and less visible to these young children, an opportunity to end the cycle of poverty.

NPH: Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos: Our little brothers and sisters

The international program began in 1952 by Father William B. Wasson in Cuernavaca, Mexico. A young boy, who took from the church’s collection box in order to feed his empty stomach, was caught and headed for a harsh sentence. As an alternative, Father Wasson took him in, and thus began NPH. Today, the organization is raising more than 3,200 orphaned, abandoned, and disadvantaged children in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. Approximately 2,300 additional children, who don’t live at NPH homes, receive scholarships, meals, and health care.

Becoming Dr. Antúnez, a Surgeon with Wisdom and Heart
As a child, Merlin was motivated to become a doctor so he could “heal his father.” Time wasn’t on his side to accomplish that goal, however, scholarships, Godparents from the United States and Europe, and NPH’s unwavering support led to his 2009 graduation from the National University of Honduras as a general physician. As he blossomed into Dr. Antúnez—who now has children of his own—he felt an overwhelming desire to give back to those who made his current life possible. While caring for children at NPH, as well as surrounding villagers, he became interested in becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. He finished his residency on December 31, 2013,  and the next month joined the staff at NPH Holy Family Surgery Center. “My favorite patients are the poor ones who are so humble and tell me their heartbreaking stories,” says Dr. Antúnez. These are stories he can easily relate to. “The best way they can pay me is with a smile. Life isn’t just about money. It’s about being happy with the things that you do. I just love waking up every morning and seeing my patients.”

“Dr. Merlin is a remarkable example of the NPH promise,” says Dr. Bruckner. Under his leadership, many Hondurans have experienced a level of health care that has never been available to them.”

2009 – The Bruckner Family Became Part of the NPH Family
The Bruckners—Jim, Mary Jo and their three sons—began their relationship with NPH Honduras in 2009 as a family project, something meaningful they could do together that benefited others. Jim Bruckner, a Board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, specializes in joint replacement, orthopaedic oncology, and trauma and fracture care. Included in the list of Top Doctors in Seattle Magazine, Seattle Met, and Consumer’s Checkbook, he is a perfect person for Dr. Antúnez to shadow and learn from. Mary Jo Bruckner is a speech pathologist and chair of the NPH NW Regional Board, which raises money and runs volunteer programs in support of the amazing work of NPH families. This year, there is a special push to raise funds to support more college students in the nine homes NPH operates throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Bruckner family sponsors two children in Honduras and has made two trips to the NPH Honduras ranch. During his visit there in November 2016, Dr. Bruckner discussed with Dr. Antúnez what his goals were for shadowing him at Proliance this fall. “Though medical brigades come to the HFSC every few weeks to treat complex cases or surgery case overloads, he has no daily peer-to-peer ongoing education” says Mary Jo. This opportunity to shadow a Proliance surgeon will surely enhance his ability to care for his patients in Honduras.