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Midwestern University medical students tend to patients in Nicaragua

Alyssa Smith, Jennifer Becker and Joon Suh pose during their trip to give medical care in Nicaragua this summer.
Alyssa Smith, Jennifer Becker and Joon Suh pose during their trip to give medical care in Nicaragua this summer.

DOWNERS GROVE – Jennifer Becker’s first trip with Global Medical Training to provide care in impoverished countries made a lasting impression, she said.

So, this spring, Becker organized a mission for herself and 23 first-year Midwestern University medical students to spend a week tending to those in need in Nicaragua.

“I went to Panama and to the Dominican Republic on previous trips,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to expose a lot of my classmates to these kinds of living conditions because we’re pretty oblivious to it in America.

“I think a lot of the times you don’t realize what you take for granted. We live in America, so we have access to health care and food and things like that. These people, for a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve seen a physician or had access to treatment.”

During the trip, which ended June 3, the group of students and their supervisory doctors set up clinics in churches, one-room schoolhouses or other suitable buildings in villages. Then, the procession of about 150 patients each day would stream through the doors, seeking diagnosis for a variety of issues.

Nicaraguans in the rural areas the students spent most of their time in have little to no access to fresh water or medical attention, resulting in widespread parasites like round worm, which was the most common ailment they encountered, she said.

“You don’t have the diagnostic testing that you would normally have if you were in a medical clinic,” she said. “A lot of times you would have to go with the most probable cause because you don’t have any ways to diagnose. You’re treating them on what you assume is their illness.”

The group encountered one boy who they hope to extend further help to even though they’re back home in the U.S., she said.

He had suffered asphyxiation during a difficult birth, and resulting birth defects left him unable to walk.

“Situations like that, where people have chronic illness, they have never had a diagnosis,” she said. “Therefore, they’ve never had treatment.”

In the boy’s case, treatment wouldn’t be helpful but therapy would.

His mother has “never had access to any kind of help,” she said. “We are working on purchasing him a wheelchair. He’s six years old now, and his mother has always been able to carry him around. But it’s getting to the point where he’s starting to weigh a substantial amount, and his mom cant carry him anymore.”

She said once the wheelchair or funds for one are acquired, they should be able to coordinate through Global Medical Training to connect with the family again.

This will be the final summer trip Becker, 26, will be able to take for the foreseeable future. Future summers will booked with clinical rotations and residencies before becoming a full-fledged doctor.

The Lansing, Iowa, native said she hopes to be able to work in global medicine again, whether professionally or later as philanthropy during retirement.

“I definitely want to somehow incorporate global health into my career, but I’m not sure how I want to do it,” she said.

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