Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaching Chronic Disease in Central America

Patiently, Project HOPE volunteer nurse, Anne Borden, listens as an elderly lady with diabetes talks about her life. She then talks with her, giving her advice on how to better control her disease within her environment in rural Central America.

Anne will repeat this scene, over and over again, listening to and teaching each individual patient to ensure all their questions are answered and that they understand their chronic diseases. “It is very gratifying. There is a lot of individual counseling and teaching and people are very appreciative of anything you do. We get the opportunity to teach people the basic fundamentals of how to manage their chronic diseases that they are going to have all their lives,” Anne says.

So she continues, meeting with each patient, one-on-one, helping them understand hypertension, diabetes, the risk factor for stroke and the importance of following through on medications and more.

Anne first worked with Project HOPE when her employer, Massachusetts General Hospital, sent a team of volunteers to work with HOPE in Haiti following the devastating earthquake. She says that volunteering after the earthquake really made her understand how connected every one really is. Her second volunteer mission with HOPE in Nicaragua and Panama is cementing that belief.

"It is interesting that the people in these Central American countries have the same health concerns as we do in the United States," she says. "They have the same basic health problems, the same concerns, such as how they get their meds or how are you going to help them get their quality of life back."

One patient in particular that sticks out in her mind is an older Nicaraguan woman, probably about 92. She was very healthy, and had her blood pressure checked. She said that she represented all the Nicaraguans who couldn’t get out of their houses. "She was very graceful, very well spoken and sweet," Anne says.

In addition to working with patients, Anne is also serving as HOPE's Operations Officer and Chief Nursing Officer during this portion of the Continuing Promise 2010 eight-country mission. Her leadership role makes her appreciate even more the complexity and scale of this annual humanitarian assistance and health education mission. "The Navy really has the infrastructure to pull off such a large mission that helps so many people," she says. "It is [also] nice to work with the Navy people, and get the opportunity to work with all the diverse people on the boat. At lunch we had every branch of the military at the table, but the Coast Guard, plus a dentist from Canada. How often can you say that you participated in something on such a large scale and worked with people from Germany, Canada, Paraguay, and the Netherlands?”

But of course, the best part continues to be the grateful smiles and big, sometimes sweaty hugs from the people she cares for. "I would do another mission in a heartbeat. It is a way to help our neighbors," she says.

Photos and story by Bonnie Hudlet, HOPE's Volunteer Public Affairs Officer

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