Last updated: February 16. 2013 4:23PM - 1082 Views

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Benches in a church sanctuary.

Wooden tables under a canopy outdoors.

A large metal shipping container with cut-out doors and windows.

These were the locations of some of the clinics where a team of 10 medical professionals and students from Marywood University treated patients during a recent trip to Haiti.

Despite their limited tools and resources, and the lack of modern conveniences , the team members worked together for a week to provide quality healthcare.

The medical mission trip, which ran July 8 to 15, was led by Karen E. Arscott, of Waverly, Program Director of the Physician Assistant Program at Marywood University. It included an interdisciplinary team of doctors, Physician Assistants, nurses and dieticians—five faculty members and five students.

The team partnered with Heart to Heart International, an organization which, according to its website, "was one of the first humanitarian organizations to respond to the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 230,000 people and is one of the few organizations still there providing healing and hope."

Arscott said one thing that impressed the team about the people of Haiti, is that although they live in a poverty-stricken country, they are not lazy. As the team rode through the city (sometimes in Port Au Prince, sometimes Leogane) each morning at 6:15, they saw the population already up and working or looking for work.

"The streets were so busy at that early hour, and everyone was working, everyone was doing something," she said.

The team traveled to five different clinics while in Haiti, and their main center base was in Petionville in Port Au Prince. One clinic to which they traveled was located on a mountaintop near the village of Fondwa. Karen Arscott's husband, James Arscott, who was also on the team, described the journey there as "very steep terrain."

"Farmers carve terraces into the mountainside in order to plant crops," he said. "The terraces are so steep that the farmers tether themselves to the ground so that they don't fall down the mountainside."

‘Smile like a sunbeam'

It was in this place he said he met his "favorite patient."

"She claimed to be in her 60s, but was probably more in her 80s," he said. "She wore a cloth that had ‘Jesus' printed on it in different colors and fonts. She had a smile like a sunbeam and she insisted on hugging and kissing each of us, all the while saying ‘merci, merci' over and over."

He said he and the Physician Assistant student working with him sorted through her list of medical complaints, but couldn't find anything wrong with her, so they congratulated her on her good health and sent her on her way with some free vitamins.

"The last we saw her, she was hugging and kissing her way toward the pharmacy area," he said.

The whole team spoke highly of the Haitian people, who they described as "grateful."

Dana Thomson, one of the Physician Assistant students on the team, wrote in a journal reflection of the trip, "The patience and gratitude of each and every person we came in contact with was truly incredible to me. The people would get to the clinic before we even arrived each day and many of them walked. Each person waited in line for triage, then again to be seen by the physician and yet again to pick up any prescriptions. Not one person complained about the wait. Not one person crossed their arms and got angry with us. I hope to remember their patience and gratitude every day of my life and that it reflects in my actions for years to come."

Karen Arscott said of the team, "We learned from each other. We lived together, we cared for patients together, we loved our patients together and we prayed together."

The medical care provided by the team varied, along with the individual skills of each of its members.

Karen and James Arscott both went as physicians. "This was something," Karen said, "because I haven't practiced primary care in almost 20 years. I teach clinical medicine, but that is different. In Haiti I saw patients from five weeks up to 88 years old. It was something how my training as a physician came back very quickly and I felt more comfortable."

She added that she also had the opportunity to practice what she teaches her students by asking for help when faced with uncertainty. "I believe that was a major learning point for the students," she said. "They saw the faculty openly asking each other for help."

The team included two physician assistant students: Dana Thomson, of Archbald, who worked with Karen Arscott; and Jacqueline Freebery, of New Castle, Del., who assisted James Arscott. They performed a variety of tasks, such as taking patient histories, conducting physical examinations, making diagnoses and more.

Both Thomson and Freebery said their favorite part of the trip was working with the children, who Freebery described as "happy, innocent and thankful."

"Seeing the bright faces of the children each day was so inspiring," Thomson said. "I loved having the opportunity to interact with the children—from a little girl running up and grabbing my hand, to handing out lollipops in a somewhat chaotic fashion, to teaching some young kids how to use a stethoscope, to holding a little baby while a mother talked to Dr. Arscott."

While the physicians and Physician Assistants conducted examinations, those in the field of nutrition and dietetics focused on the education and nutritional needs of the Haitians.

Joanne Christaldi, of Scranton, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at the university, provided nutrition education and oversaw student involvement in nutrition related practices.

"As a faculty member, this trip allowed me to provide service in a place of great need," Christaldi said. "I have been very fortunate with receiving education, so having an opportunity to pay back was a huge factor. I also hope to take back into the classroom the knowledge I gained about this culture."

She said from a nutritional standpoint, the team was able to educate the Haitian patients about high blood pressure, gastric reflux, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Jessica Rae Bodzio, Clinical Instructor/DPD Director in the Nutrition and Dietetics Department at the university, also represented the field of nutrition.

"This trip was transformative for me," she said. "Additionally, my experience allowed me to have a greater understanding of the role of food and nutrition in a foreign country. "

Two Nutrition and Dietetics students were on the team: David Korb, of Scranton, and Maryrose Ammirati, of Long Island, N.Y. They worked to provide education and assessment of the Haitian patients, taking their heights and weights and calculating BMIs (Body Mass Index).

Hardest part: Leaving

Korb and Ammirati both said their favorite part of the trip was getting to know the people they worked with, as well as the Haitians. They both said the hardest part was leaving.

"The main thing that I learned while in Haiti," Korb wrote in a reflection paper, "is that the Haitian people are merely victims of colonial oppression and modern circumstance. Oppressed by the French, tortured by their government, destroyed by natural disasters, devastated by disease and the only thing the modern Haitian is guilty of is being born in Haiti...Their situation both shakes and fortifies your faith as you are angered and frustrated for these people but also take solace that despite their disparity they remain kind, hopeful and faithful Christians."

"I had no idea what to expect," Ammirati said, "I will never forget it and want to continue to do service trips again."

The team also included Dr. Diane Haleem, Associate Professor of Nursing and Marissa DeLeo, a nursing student.

James Arscott said he believes this trip and ones like it are important in the education of the students, because it allows them to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of life by experiencing hardship and poverty. He said it's also important for them to see some of the diseases common in other parts of the world.

Similarly, Bodzio said international experiences, especially in underdeveloped countries such as Haiti, bring to light the importance of one's part in the world in which they live.

James Arscott added, "If we are able to overcome culture and language barriers in Haiti, then we can do the same here at home. The United States is culturally diverse and the barriers that we had to overcome in Haiti are becoming commonplace here. There is also a value in learning to provide quality care in an austere environment. Lavish healthcare does not necessarily translate into quality healthcare. I think that our students saw that difference and can make that distinction."

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