Students in the Health Science Center’s School of Nursing are determined to help the residents of these countries. Last summer, nursing students worked together with Darlene Gilcreast, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of chronic nursing, to incorporate a mission trip to South America into their curriculum. After approval, five nursing students and several physicians from the Health Science Center traveled to Guatemala and El Salvador to provide area residents access to quality health care. When the team arrived, thousands of native South Americans desperate for health care had already walked hundreds of miles to line up at the clinics.
Health Science Center physicians Leticia Vargas, M.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine; John Boldt, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology; and Elly Xenakis, M.D., assistant professor of ob-gyn who holds the J&R Blumberg Professorship, performed numerous surgeries that may have saved several lives.
"We worked in the postoperative unit with several patients who had hernia repairs," Benson said. "Because of the lack of transportation, the people carry heavy items while walking long distances. The heavy loads cause them to develop hernias, which go untreated. The best part about helping these individuals is that they are so appreciative," Benson said. "Their satisfaction makes us want to continue to participate in mission trips."
Angela Swilling and Rebecca Sinnett, both recent graduates of the School of Nursing, teamed up with San Antonio physicians and dentists to travel to one of the poorest villages in El Salvador – El Sunza. The group offered primary care to children and families.
"A handful of children had extremely high fevers but had no way of treating them," Swilling said. "We watched them closely and treated them with Tylenol and antibiotics. It is small things like over-the-counter medications that we take for granted. They can’t afford to buy them."
The students assessed hundreds of patients, performed physicals, administered medications and even made house calls to individuals who were too sick to come to the clinic.
"Some of these people had been in excruciating pain for months," Swilling said. "Many were severely dehydrated and had stomach problems because the water is so contaminated. We offered them medicine to keep them symptom-free for as long as possible."
Although there was a language barrier, Swilling said she enjoyed providing moral support and encouraging the people she saw. "They had so much trust in us. That truly is an honor."
The students came back from South America with a whole new perspective on the way others live and the importance of proper health care in the United States and in other countries.
"Although they lack so much, to them everything is precious," Benson said. "The mission trip was such a beneficial experience. Doing things like this are wonderful ways for us to be a part of global peace and giving."
Did you Know?
Undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Nursing provided nearly
$6 million in uncompensated health care services to the San Antonio community alone in 2005-2006.
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