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It took two flights and a five-hour bus ride for student physician Vanessa Parisi to help deliver a baby.
As part of an NYIT team that spent three weeks last summer in Ghana providing medical assistance to villagers in Oworobong, Parisi was awakened one morning at 5:45 a.m. and told it was time to put classroom theory into practice. Equipped with a head lamp and plastic apron, she knew she was ready.
After a local Ghanaian nurse performed an episiotomy, she turned to the NYIT student and said, “OK, you deliver.” “I was so nervous,” said Parisi. “I had seen countless deliveries before but this was my first time.”
With help from Assistant Professor Zehra Ahmed of NYIT’s School of Health Professions, she successfully delivered Kwaku, a healthy baby boy born to a 19-year-old mother.
“He cried right away,” recalled Parisi. “I went to the nursery to visit him later. I had to get a picture. I was in my moment.”
Parisi’s story is one of many stemming from a trip taken by more than a dozen NYIT medical students and faculty members to Ghana on June 13. After landing in the capital city of Accra, the group traveled by bus to Oworobong. Sponsored by NYIT’s Center for Global Health and the Rohde Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to sustainable, quality health care in rural Africa, the team represented some of the finest minds (under the supervision of Edward Cho, the center’s assistant director) from the university’s osteopathic medicine, nursing, and physician assistant programs. Their mission: to address the health concerns of local citizens.
Joining the medical crew were students from NYIT’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a nonprofit humanitarian organization that partners with communities worldwide on interdisciplinary sustainable projects, who researched initiatives to improve sanitation and water quality in the region.
“Once we arrived in the small village, we were greeted by everyone around us with ‘akwaba’, which means ‘welcome,’” said Cheryl Dinglas, a student in NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM). “The children surrounded us, and their tiny hands grabbed ours.”
Despite some significant obstacles, the team wasted no time in getting to work. “There was no power, no running water, and the blistering heat would pierce through any shade that could be found,” said NYCOM student Sriniketh Sundar.
In addition, no areas had been prepared for medical procedures or storing supplies. “We immediately sorted through the 850 pounds of medical equipment that we brought,” said Dinglas. The students then coordinated with local carpenters to set up an appropriate infrastructure. “The workers began to build walls for a pharmacy, a delivery room, and a diagnostic room,” she said. “The transformation was astonishing.”
The engineering students also faced challenges. On their first day, they had to repair a hand pump in a nearby well. “We had to take what we learned in the classroom and completely adapt to the environment,” said Christopher Jewth, a student in NYIT’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences and president of the university’s EWB chapter.
The repair was made in the nick of time, as later that evening, fresh water was needed when NYCOM Assistant Professor Deborah Lardner helped a local mother deliver another baby.
Treating the citizens of Oworobong meant dealing with a host of other challenges and cultural considerations not found in Western medicine.
“I saw and treated diseases that are not common in the United States, such as malaria, schistosmiasis, bacillary dysentery, and elephantiasis,” said physician assistant student Jessica Stein. The experience of working in a rural environment with no electricity or running water taught her how doctors try to make the best medical decisions while dealing with limited resources.
For the people of Oworobong, living in a region with minimal access to modern health care means having to cope with medical problems over the long term. “Nobody in Oworobong complains about minor ailments,” said NYCOM student Kristin Gotimer. “They are just a part of life.” She recalls treating an 85-year-old man who had hurt his hip after falling out of a tree while picking plantains. “He told me his story in passing and said he got right back up and went to work.”
For Dinglas, treating her first patient— a young boy incapable of opening his right eye due to an abscess and swelling on his face—was an experience she will never forget. “I was able to perform my first incision and drainage procedure and witness his progress daily,” she said. “In time, his eye and face soon healed, and I saw his smiling face looking back at mine.”
The citizens of Oworobong did not hesitate to take NYIT’s mission of providing medical treatment to task. “The importance they placed on health care was evident as they would walk for miles just to be seen by students or doctors,” said NYCOM student Jiten Patel, whose patients’ ages ranged from six days to 75 years old.
“We left inspired, all in different ways,” said Gotimer upon the trip’s conclusion. Engineering student Divyesh Patel, vice president of the EWB chapter, took comfort in knowing his work in Ghana would have a lasting impact. “The most powerful realization for me was that our efforts were helping to create a better future for the children,” he said.
Researching medical needs, teaching local nurses how to provide health care, and establishing a prenatal care system in three weeks was a tremendous accomplishment, said Dinglas. “We formed friendships and instilled trust and hope within the community and within ourselves.”