“The biggest instance was when we were leaving and six people in our group were informed by Spirit Airlines that their flights were cancelled and rescheduled for five days later,” Eastern Michigan University President of the Physician Assistant student organization, Emily Batdorf said.
It was February 26. There were no flights out of the country whatsoever. They would be stuck. Mid-term exams were fast approaching. The panic button was pressed.
“Early March is what the airline told us,” senior and first-year nursing student Amber Buchanan said. “We can’t stay in a third world country until early March. Where am I gonna go?!”
Fortunately, they made it home safe and sound. Jet-lagged, emotionally and physically spent, the 13-member convoy comprised of Eastern Michigan University Nursing students, Physician’s Assistants, faculty and paramedics boarded an airplane, via what business school professors and other media outlets have dubbed, “the worst airline in America” back home to America. Five days later.
“We were emailing our professors like, ‘Hey we don’t know when we’re coming back.”
“But we have exams.”
“Try and be here.”
So much for intervening on behalf of the nation and the university to provide medical relief and aid to a country after such a catastrophic natural disaster. But if they had to miss exams, it would all be moot. Especially after the hard work they put in over their spring break.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake obliterated Port-au-Prince Haiti, claiming up to 316,000 lives and displacing over 1.5 million people. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the region in more than two centuries. Seven years later, 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid, according to a new report from the United Nations.
This past spring break, members of the EMU Student Nurses Association, the Physician’s Assistants Organization, several certified PAs who were graduates of EMU’s young PA program and faculty led a medical service trip to Haiti to provide relief efforts, medical assistance, aid and clean water to citizens of the severely ravaged nation.
The team set up shop in the high crime commune of Port-au-Prince called Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb about eight miles northeast to the city. Originally located inland after the 1770 Port-au-Prince earthquake, it was because of this that it was not as badly damaged after the 2010 earthquake, thus making it a reliable home for refugee tent villages.
Cholera outbreaks, immeasurably unsanitary conditions and decimated crops and irrigation canals to a nation that has historically relied heavily on farming and agriculture were just a few of the things in store for the students. Many of the 485 plus patients that the group treated had been without help for months, while some had never been medically examined in their whole lives.
“I had a lot of patients that I saw that would tell me, ‘Hey I have high blood pressure.’ And I would ask ‘well have you been seen for high blood pressure’? Yes I have. Do you remember what medication you were prescribed? No I don’t,” said Dean Kot, first year PA student.
In the decay, horrific injuries were discovered amongst those who were actually still alive to receive help. Out of the total 485 patients that were seen by the staff, it was approximated that around 70 percent were children.
“I saw a two-year-old with a stage three ulcer on his butt. Basically, the skin and the subcutaneous tissue was eroded away to where I could actually see the (gluteus maximus) muscle underneath,” Kot said. “We think it started as some kind of superficial skin infection that just went untreated, and especially in that tropical climate that they live in, they don’t have access to the cleanliest of water supply, so they couldn’t clean it properly.”
For the 13 EMU students, the trip was a tremendous lesson on the haves and have-nots. With so much that America has, it’s easy to take things for granted. It was also a look into a window about a group of future young medical professionals who aspire to make positive contributions to the body of work that goes into building up this particular brand of science.
“I’m very passionate about wanting to serve in underprivileged areas and that’s the drive for me to want to go into medicine,” junior and first year nursing student Gretchen Gunderson said. “It’s why I chose it.”