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Trent Thompson, MD, Philip Bain, MD, and Jeff Welsch, PA-C, of SSM Health Dean Medical Group recently accompanied 30 college students (mostly from UW-Madison) and other health care professionals to Nicaragua as part of a global medical brigade trip. The three primary care providers have been to Nicaragua, Honduras and Ghana in the past as part of Global Brigades trips.
The week-long program consisted of medical, dental, public health and water brigades.
The medical brigade saw approximately 900 patients over a three-day period in two rural Nicaraguan communities. The US providers worked alongside Nicaraguan physicians, and most of the patients were helped with common maladies including URIs, low back pain, cough and hypertension. Less common conditions included shingles, sequelae of Chagas disease and sequelae from untreated fractures.
"As a clinician, this experience is equally challenging and rewarding," said Dr. Thompson. "It's gratifying to know that we are providing help to people who otherwise would go without. And on a personal level, it is quite humbling to place yourself in this setting outside of your comfort zone. I become a better provider and more importantly, I become a better human with this experience."
The dental brigades cared for over 100 patients over the three days for conditions ranging from rotten teeth requiring extraction, to gum diseases. Two Nicaraguan dentists and a US dental hygienist performed the work.
The public health brigade involved building a personal sanitation station for three families over two days. These families previously had to bathe and wash their clothes in the community river, as well as go to the bathroom in local fields or wooded areas. The stations consisted of a concrete wash basin and washing table, a shower, a toilet and a septic field. The teams worked alongside community masons to complete the work. The recipients of the stations were so grateful that they now had their very own facilities.
"A mother and her three children had tears of gratitude as we posed for photos finishing up the project and saying our goodbyes," said Jeff Welsch. "We matched their tears with our own tears of joy. This is a memory to be forever remembered and cherished."
The last day was spent on the water brigade. The majority of the students and professionals worked with three other University chapters (175 students in all) to dig trenches down a mountainside that will eventually contain piping that will transport clean water from a central mountaintop reservoir to five rural communities.
Another highlight of the trip was the building of a water purification filtration system developed by Dr. Bain and local UW Engineering students. This filtration system will allow rural community families to have clean water who previously did not have easy access to potable water. This first-time project will hopefully be part of all future water brigades.
"It was so incredibly gratifying to identify a vital need on a previous brigade, bring the idea back to Madison and challenge local engineering students to come up with practical solutions that could be implemented in Nicaragua,” said Dr. Bain. We worked with water engineers in Honduras and Nicaragua over Skype to come up with our final prototype. To see the smiles on the family members who will be using the filter was awesome. We even had their neighbors come up to us asking to be next in line as we finished the project."
The trip to Nicaragua was an overwhelming success and helped bring a true global perspective to the students and professionals alike.
For more information about Global Brigades, visit http://www.globalbrigades.org
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