Group marks 15th year for international trip
Impoverished residents in a small Dominican Republic village received much-needed medical care from Daemen College students and faculty during a recent international mission trip, an annual college effort that's estimated to have assisted more than 7,000 individuals over the past 15 years.
The weeklong trip, which took place during winter break from Jan. 10-17, was organized by the Daemen Students Without Borders organization. The student participants, comprised of 37 Daemen physician assistant and two physical therapy majors, traveled to the village of Batey La Balsa, a small community on the outskirts of San Pedro de Macoris, where they set up a clinic that offered basic medical and physical therapy services.
"Residents of this small community oftentimes depend on this type of temporary clinic for medical care they otherwise wouldn't receive because of financial or travel barriers," said Dr. Gary Styn Jr., Daemen assistant professor of physician assistant studies and director of graduate anatomical sciences. He has accompanied the SWOB group for the past eight years. "Beyond offering students a unique opportunity to gain experience in the field, this trip helps cultivate their role as a medical caregiver and to better understand the value and dignity of helping all kinds of patients."
Marking Daemen SWOB's first visit to Batey La Balsa, the village's clinic was housed in a community building with no plumbing and made up of cinder block walls and concrete floors. More than 335 residents were evaluated and treated for a range of conditions, including upper respiratory infections, arthritis and women's health issues. Patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, were educated about their condition and the importance of regular follow-up visits with a physician, while patients with serious, acute conditions were referred to an area hospital.
"For our physician assistant students, particularly those entering the clinical phase of the program, working at the clinic gave them invaluable exposure to interfacing one-on-one with patients and helped them develop confidence in their knowledge and skills," Styn said.
A year in the making, the trip was organized by Kiersten Simmons, a physician assistant major who serves as SWOB president, and other officers of the student organization. For Simmons, the international trip was a rare opportunity to have a powerful impact on an impoverished community and to enhance her educational experience.
"After a year of hard work and planning by SWOB, it was very rewarding to see all of it come together and to apply my knowledge and clinical skills in a way that assisted many needy people," said Simmons, who also took part in last year's medical mission trip. "It was heartwarming to see first-hand how grateful the patients were for our assistance and to know the results of our efforts have made such a difference in their lives."
Dr. Lynn Matthews, assistant professor of athletic training and a first-time participant on the SWOB trip, accompanied students to the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos orphanage to provide physical therapy to youngsters with special needs. A new endeavor for SWOB, the Daemen group also worked with the orphanage's physical education teacher to implement developmentally appropriate activities for children in grades 1-9.
"Our Daemen students were extremely dedicated to this humanitarian effort and acquired incredible insight on addressing the health care needs of an underserved population," said Matthews, who was joined by Katie Miller, assistant professor of physician assistant studies, in overseeing services at the orphanage. "It was a life-changing experience for everyone involved."
Along with medical care, the Daemen SWOB organization distributed clothing and shoes, toiletries, rice and beans, and other donated items to village residents that had been collected throughout the year.
Styn credited Rafael Genao, a Dominican Republic native who received a bachelor's degree in humanities from Daemen, for the long-standing success of the SWOB mission trips. "His extensive efforts have been, without question, vital to enabling our Daemen group to aid so many people throughout the years," he said.
Looking back on SWOB's efforts, Simmons, a Wilson resident, said she looks forward to joining in additional medical mission trips. "Treating those who do not have access to health care was a humbling experience that has helped shape me as a person and as a future physician assistant," she said.
In addition to Simmons, Daemen student participants in the Dominican Republic trip were Sam Ali of Grand Island; Abrianna Adler of Spencerport; Jenna Allers of Williamsville; Molly Austin of Castleton; Monica Bailey of Buffalo; Ashley Barnard of Homer; Kelsey Beyea of East Rochester; Tessa Bigelow of Alexander; Emma Blackley of Lockport; Maron Brauer of Gasport; Allison Cuzzacrea of Lockport; Ryan D'Arcy of Newark Valley; Joseph DellaValle of Tonawanda; Karalyn Evanco of Amherst; Dillon Fedak of Niagara Falls; Nora Fiore of Lewiston; Alexandra Glover of LeRoy; Rebecca Grethel of Cicero; Kaleigh Hubert of Erie, Pennsylvania; Taylor Jones of Tonawanda; Mark Kerner of West Seneca; Kelly Lorence of Grand Island; Anna Lyons of Webster; Emily McCumiskey of Belfast; Laura McDonald of Blasdell; Melissa McDonald of Blasdell; Courtney Owczarzak of Clarence; Taylore Passero of Clarence Center; Andrew Piatkowski of Lancaster; Thomas Redmond of Skaneateles; Sierra Schmidt of Belmont; Marjorie Shanks of Buffalo; Courtney Sobkowiak of Cheektowaga; Noelle Thompson of Vestal; Jenna Tobias of Snyder; Jessica Utech of Williamsville; Zachary Vick of Kent; and Sarah Zakrzewski of Gasport.
Joining them were Daemen physician assistant program graduates Jillian LaMarca and Mary Tyson-Turner; physicians Dr. Christopher Ang and Dr. Michael Dlugosz; and Styn's son, Thomas, a St. Bonaventure University student.
Kiersten Simmons of Wilson