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Blinn Physical Therapist Assistant students offer medical care abroad

Nevah Evans, Ruth Lee, Nicole Lopez, Molly Sanford, and Hannah Waddell spend summer break on a medical mission trip in Peru

June 25, 2018


Blinn Physical Therapist Assistant students offer medical care abroad

Deep in the Andes Mountains, the small Peruvian village of Quillabamba and the surrounding area thrives on agricultural activity. From sunrise to sunset, the local people labor in the fields, tending and harvesting crops such as coffee, cacao, and tea.

During a recent medical mission trip to southern Peru, five Blinn College District Physical Therapist Assistant students received a glimpse of what a lifetime of continuous labor can do to a body without proper medical care. Nevah Evans, Ruth Lee, Nicole Lopez, Molly Sanford, and Hannah Waddell, assisted by Program Director Dr. Christy Gantt, used their developing talents to provide healthcare to local residents.

“The majority of the patients we saw were longtime farmers who were in their later stages of life,” Lopez said. “We were looking at a lot of chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, caused by many years of hard labor. They learn to tolerate their health issues because not working is not an option.”

Each day, the students made the 45-minute, guided trek through the Andes Mountains to a temporary clinic, where they provided much-needed free healthcare. Approximately 300 individuals received treatment in the four days the group was stationed at the clinic.

“Hundreds of people traveled from far away to visit us,” Sanford said. “Although we hit the limit on the number of patients we could see each day, we still tried to make sure everyone received some kind of treatment, whether it be pain medication or vitamins.”

Exposed to a variety of unusual ailments, the students quickly had to assess and evaluate patients without advanced equipment to determine the site and extent of an injury. Many of the health issues they encountered – which ranged from back pain and body deformities to severe paralysis from a car accident – stemmed from a lack of treatment or common medical knowledge.

“This has been a humbling experience,” Waddell said. “The ailments we witnessed were things we probably will never see working in the United States. It was a culture shock to see the resilience of the local people.”

In addition to medical challenges, the budding physical therapist assistants also faced an obstacle they were not expecting – a double language barrier. Two interpreters had to assist each evaluation to translate their dialogue from English to Spanish then to Quechua, the native language of the area.
The students gained invaluable hands-on experience working alongside physical therapists, physicians, and registered nurses in a unique environment, and appreciated the chance to take their knowledge beyond a classroom setting.

“The best part of the trip for me was the clinical application of everything we have learned in the program,” Lee said. “When someone came in with a difficult issue, we would all work together to figure out the best way to offer treatment. Dr. Gantt really challenged us to work as practitioners in the field rather than just students. The experience pushed our minds to think outside the box.”

Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, Blinn’s Physical Therapist Assistant Program is a two-year program that instructs students in various treatment procedures, including rehabilitation techniques, therapeutic exercises, and patient training and education. After completing approximately 63 semester hours, students earn an Associate of Applied Science degree, and most students find employment and begin working as soon as they graduate.

For more information or to register for an information session to learn more about the program, visit: www.blinn.edu/twe/pta.