OGDEN, Utah – A group of 25 Weber State University students rang in 2007 by providing medical assistance to impoverished citizens of Peru.
The students, members of WSU’s chapter of the Hope Alliance, spent 13 days working with Peruvian doctors and visiting health care providers, passing out medical supplies and administering basic health care to people living in villages along the Amazon River.
“It’s not a vacation by any means,” said Chris Palmer, vice president/president-elect of WSU’s Hope Alliance chapter. “When we’re there it’s nine-hour days—sun up to sun down—seeing as many people as possible.”
Palmer, a Clearfield native who is pursuing a degree in microbiology, estimates they saw a few hundred people per day. This was Palmer’s second humanitarian trip to Peru.
Many of the students, like Palmer, were pre-med or pre-dental students, who gained a new-found appreciation for the health care system in the United States.
“It really allows you to see what we have in terms of medicine, economy, all the advantages we have in this country,” Palmer said.
The students performed triage on the trip—making an initial assessment of patients’ problems and directing them to the appropriate doctor on site. Palmer said the team diagnosed a 16-day-old boy with an impacted bowel who was transported to a Peruvian hospital for additional treatment.
Prior to the trip, students helped raise $10,000 to purchase medical supplies and pharmaceuticals that could be dispensed in Peru. In addition to providing physicals and basic dental care, members of the group also administered vision exams and distributed eyeglasses to those with impaired vision.
Barbara Trask, zoology professor and advisor to WSU’s pre-med program, and her husband, Tim, a staff hospitalist at McKay-Dee Hospital, traveled with the students. Chris Dandoy, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Utah who graduated from WSU with a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 2003, also accompanied the group to Peru. Dandoy helped establish WSU’s Hope Alliance chapter when he was a pre-med student at WSU. The party also included an oral surgeon and an environmental engineer who tested the quality of well water.
Trask said the experience provides students a chance to shadow physicians and interact with patients, both important learning opportunities for future doctors. According to Palmer, WSU’s pre-med students are the only undergraduate Hope Alliance chapter in the state that goes on trips. With a limited number of student slots per trip, the chapter had to turn away as many as 40 people for this most recent trip.
Many of the students, including Palmer, are planning another humanitarian trip to Peru in May. In the meantime, they hope to raise awareness and funds so they can purchase additional supplies for those in need.
Palmer said that when villagers know the health care providers are coming, they will stand in long lines, sometimes waiting all night just to ensure they will be seen.
“It’s quite a welcome, quite humbling,” Palmer said. “Their response brought tears to my eyes.”
The Hope Alliance, a Utah-based organization that was established in 1999, works to connect people and resources to humanitarian needs around the world. In particular it strives to improve conditions in third world nations by providing basic amenities to people, including medical attention, long-term health care, safe shelter, adequate food and clean drinking water. The Hope Alliance mission is to improve health in communities of need by setting up long-term, self-sustaining programs. The WSU chapter was established in 2001.
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