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Unsung: Meagan Sanko

Unsung: Meagan Sanko
October 29, 2015 No comments

My name is Meagan Sanko and I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. I have always loved science and after high school decided to take on a biology major at the Pennsylvania State University. The human body had always interested me but I found a love for it in some of my pre-requisite classes. I was like a lot of others, who liked medicine and thought that going to medical school was the only route to go for that. After shadowing with a physician, I realized I wanted more flexibility in my life than the profession allowed and it was that physician who introduced me to the physician assistant profession. So I pursued my dream and am currently a physician assistant student at Hofstra University.

Honestly, the way I got involved in global service is not the greatest of stories. I wanted to travel and I also wanted something like Global Brigades to be on my physician assistant school application so I signed up for Global Medical Brigades and dedicated my time to the club so that I could go to Panama in May 2013. This was my first brigade and it was the most eye opening experience I have ever had in my life. It was amazing to me to see the lack of medical resources in a community. These people literally had zero access to medical and dental care and in the US I could go see a medical professional at any hour of any day. I loved helping this community. I loved educating the people on the importance of preventive care. I loved every single thing about that trip. It wasn’t about the traveling and it had nothing to do with becoming a better applicant. It made me a better person and it opened up my eyes to the world of medicine. Looking back, I feel guilty about what got me started in global service but, at the same time, everyone has got to start somewhere. After coming to Hofstra, I wanted to spread my passion for global service and so I started the Hofstra Global Medical Brigades club and lead the first brigade out of Hofstra to Nicaragua in August 2015.

We would wake up around 6 am and go to breakfast. Then our group would split up into 2 smaller groups, each going to a different community but providing the same care. We would take a bus about an hour to the community and set up each day. We had multiple stations – intake, triage, consult, pharmacy, dental, OB-GYN, and charla. The people would show up and we would give them a paper for them, or one of us, to fill out their name, community, date of birth. Then they would get in line to wait to have their vitals taken and would voice their reason for coming to the clinic. Next, they would see one of the doctors, who would diagnose them and send them to pharmacy for specific medications. Before being allowed at the pharmacy, the people would go to the charla station. Here we split up the adults and the children. It was our education station and the children would learn about brushing their teeth and washing their hands, as well as get a care kit including a toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap. The adults would learn about nutrition, common adult diseases, and safe sexual practices. After completing their education course, they could then go to the pharmacy to fill their “prescriptions”. Some people needed to go to the dentist so they would go to that station to get their teeth cleaned or extracted. If anyone needed to go to the OB-GYN, that would be done in another station. After each day at the clinic, we would head back to the compound and get into groups and brief on the day followed by dinner together as a group. We would meet with the community leaders each night and discuss what went well, what went poorly, and really just anything we wanted to share about the day.

Most of the students stayed to do a public health portion of the brigade. They went to a community and laid cement floors, built latrines, and bonded with the community members. This is the most rewarding part of the brigade, in my opinion, as you can see the good that you are doing right before your eyes.

Can you please describe what life is like for the people that served in your region (if you could for example, describe what a person who visited your clinic had to experience to get there or repetitive cycles or epidemics in your served regions?)

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, second only to Haiti. While there, we were told that many people live on only $1 per day. The infrastructure there is poor. Most, if not all, of our patients walked to the clinic, some from very far away. We had one elderly woman who walked 3 miles, only to get there after our clinic was already closing up. It had taken her all day to get there. Instead of turning her down, we drove her home and in the morning, went to pick her up so that she also could have the care that she deserved.

This was the first time Global Brigades had set up in either of the communities we visited. We set up at an already established medical station and we were told that the clinic would provide free care to anyone who came. The problem is, they don’t have the resources needed to supply the people. Once they run out of medications, they have to send the people elsewhere, that may also not have the supplies needed, and which also may be miles and miles away. The people of the community must have spread the word all over the area because we saw over 3,000 patients in 3 days. There were people that waited in line every day simply to get vitamins for their children.

The most common thing we saw in the clinic was intestinal upset, most likely from parasites. Every person that came through the clinic got a round of anti-parasitic therapy. It’s a common problem because a lot of times there is no clean water source or the people don’t have shoes and are walking around in the dirt all the time, including in their home where the floor is simply the ground, and parasites can enter that way. To combat this, we taught them about the importance of washing your hands, drinking clean water, and even laid cement in floors of some of the houses. Preventative measures are key in helping with this issue.

If you could give advice to someone serving at the same region and/or clinic what would you advise? How could it be improved or optimized?

I, personally, had a hard time because I speak absolutely no Spanish. On my way home, I made it a goal to start learning to speak Spanish, especially because I want to continue work with Global Brigades in the future. Those who were bilingual had an even greater experience because they could connect with the people on a more intimate level.

Was there a need greater than medical? What were some of the major challenges and areas of growth for you?

Yes, there was definitely a need greater than just medical. A lot of the conditions we saw stemmed from what could stopped by preventative care. Education on the importance of brushing your teeth, washing your hands, diet, exercise, clean water, nutrition, and sexual practices was a big part of our brigade. Many of these things, we take for granted in the States. Global Brigades functions on a holistic model – bringing clean water, public health, and many other foci together to have an overall well-rounded functioning community. Many of these brigades are not yet visiting Nicaragua so we educated the community on what we could in order to stop the problems before they even begin.

The biggest challenge for me, as a physician assistant student, was seeing all of these ailments that could have been easily prevented if there had been more education on simple things, like brushing your teeth or simply not drinking dirty water. A lot of these people in the communities do not have access to clean water and to me that just is not fair. Why do I get the luxury of not having to worry about the water I drink and bathe in and they don’t ? This experience will make me a better clinician in the future because now I’ve seen first-hand the importance of educating your patients on topics that can keep them from developing conditions that can easily be avoided.

What can you say about the culture or do you have any stories about particular people you encountered?

The people were so grateful to have us there. Upon the last day of our clinic, the people set up a speech, music, a piñata, and cultural dancing for us to participate in. The culture is amazing and like I said before, I really wish I spoke Spanish and could have better connected with the people of the community. Many others in our group did.

What does Crafting Wellness mean to you?

From a medical aspect, crafting wellness means meeting the wellness needs of a community in a way unique to them, by being flexible in your care rather than treating each and every person or community in the same fashion.

Unsung, is a feature MDF proudly brings to the MDF community highlighting the incredible MDF’ers who are truly #CraftingWellness. We hope to inspire, encourage, and connect humanity by sharing the stories from the thousands of anonymous individuals whose imprint can be seen in the lives of countless others.

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