In a country like Nicaragua, regular access to specialized medical care is hard to come by. When it becomes available, people travel for hours by bus, bicycle, motorcycle, ox-drawn cart, foot – whatever it takes – to give their child, relative, friend or even themselves an opportunity for a better quality of life.
Caregivers, some who carried a child the entire way, went to great lengths to get to one of several clinics staffed by five third-year doctor of physical therapy students, one alumna and a faculty member from the University of Findlay. A nurse and a translator helped the group, as well. They treated people of all ages, with many conditions, including Down’s syndrome, polio and cerebral palsy.
Julie Toney, associate professor in the physical therapy program, facilitated the trip through Hearts for Honduras with on-campus help from Chris Sippel, director of international education. Heart To Honduras is based in Xenia, Ohio; Toney accompanied a group of students to Honduras through the same organization last year, as well.
Each student who went on the trip was struck by the overwhelming support Nicaraguan caregivers provide to the patients.
“Every parent or caregiver wanted to learn what they could do in order to help the patient reach his or her full potential,” said Amanda Bachmayer, who also went on last year’s trip.
Matthew Zeck agreed. “Some of these families have endured horrible and unthinkable tragedies, but their families and friends reach out and take care of these children when something has happened,” he said. “One woman said she was taking care of a 9-year-old girl because she had no one else… These people were truly engaged and concerned to have their child seen and wanted to know what they could do to make the child’s life better.”
The group was humbled by the experience.
“Being able to treat patients who are unable to get adequate treatments in Central America is life changing,” said Bachmayer. “You appreciate everything in your life, whether it’s clean water, a house, shoes to wear, good health, etc. We take all of the simple things for granted, but being able to go to Nicaragua for a week and experience that culture and lifestyle puts things into perspective.”
Hannah Kramer began the trip with a different perspective than when she finished. “This was my first time out of the U.S.,” she said. “It was a reality check. I am so thankful for everything that I had the opportunity to do, and I am thankful for my family, as well.”
Though the group was there to help and educate others, they also learned from the patients.
“The experience was life changing,” said Jennie Brown. “You really learn a different way of life from others and learn how to adapt to resources available. In some instances, we had no equipment other than what we brought with us, while in another facility, we were equipped with much more than we expected. The entire trip was a lesson on the importance of flexibility, which is important in several aspects of life.”
One of the locations where the group was stationed employs a physical therapist full time. She spends some of her time consulting at the neighboring schools, said Toney. “She taught us a lot of things, and she learned a lot from us, as well – writing down ideas from the students, who are so creative. They all had a great day when they were together.”
“The overall experience of our trip to Nicaragua cannot be put into words,” said Bachmayer. “For one week, my classmates and I were able to make a difference in 150 patients’ lives by providing them with the knowledge we have about physical therapy.”
Kramer encourages others to take advantages of opportunities like this when they arise: “If you have the opportunity to go, then go. You are helping people, learning outside the classroom, engaging in a new culture and exploring a country outside the U.S.”
Brown agrees. “It doesn’t matter if it is with classmates or another organization outside your major,” she said. “There is so much to be learned from others and from hands-on experiences. With a trip like this, you experience both.”