Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Volunteers bring Lifesaving Training to Mission in Colon

From a fourth-floor room at the Policentro de Salud Dr. Juan A. Nunèz clinic in downtown Colon, the forecastle of the USNS Comfort is just visible in the skyline. The bold red cross set against the bright white tower offers a stark contrast to the view of rusted rooftops patched with mix-matched sheets of steel and tarps held down with varying materials.

For the past few days, I have been writing about the patient care our volunteers have been providing. To date, nearly 12,000 people have been cared for by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals during the Comfort’s visit to Panama.

But equally important to the Continuing Promise 2009 humanitarian mission is health education. Today, I accompanied Project HOPE volunteers Jane Bower, Elise Chamberlain, Iilene Smith and Sheila Cardwell as they continued health education classes at the Policentro Del Salud in the center of city of Colon.

Volunteers, along with their counterparts, have presented classes in wound care, burns, pre-hospital transport, infection control, pain management, shock and bleeding as well as Basic Life Support (BLS) Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support(PALS).

On the surface, the story may not be as touching as the one of a mother hearing the good news that her young daughter is no longer anemic, or the story of Carlos, receiving an operation that will allow him to get back to work. Yet the education the volunteers are providing will have lasting impact, long after the Comfort leaves Colon.

Besides...Jane, Elise, Iilene and Sheila know how to make learning fun. After some necessary lecture time, the 30–some doctors, nurses and young EMTs participating in a three-day lifesaving course spent the rest of the day practicing Pediatric Advanced Life Support skills using child-size mannequins. The volunteers provided the students with varying emergency scenarios in which to respond.

Using her Spanish speaking skills, Elise enthusiastically called out “No Responda, No Respira” and the students got to work practicing intubation, CPR, bagging procedures and more. Claps and cheers erupted from fellow students when the responder succeeded.

While the students in this particular class were well trained professionals, Jane, Project HOPE’s lead health educator explained, “Being recertified for BLS, ACLS and PALS is very expensive here, but recertification is very important. Whether you are a practicing nurse, doctor or EMT, this information and these procedures need to be reviewed on a regular basis. The more you practice, the more it becomes second nature.”

“This is very fun,” Sheila added of the three-day training. “We are offering them the training they need and the are very engaged and enthusiastic.”

Most of the students in the classes are Spanish speakers. While Jane speaks Spanish well, teaching medical training in a second language can be challenging. But the language barrier is proving to be an educational tool in itself. “It actually helps," she said. "The broken Spanish we speak actually gets the students to engage even more. They want to help us with our Spanish so they become even more involved with the lesson.”

That involvement spills over to the hands-on training as well. On the floor with five EMTs, Iilene who is not a Spanish speaker used animated gestures and facial expressions to demonstrate opening an airway in an emergency situation. “It works,” she said. Referring to her experience to date, Iilene added, “Whether we are training two students or 30, if one person gets the message and shares it with someone else , than it is worth it. That is what this mission is all about.”

To date, Project HOPE volunteers along with their NGO and military counterparts have participated in 15,000 health education encounters.

(Check back later in the week for video of volunteers using the "EKG Dance" as a teaching tool." )

Thanks for reading- Melanie

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