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PT students spend time off treating patients in Mexico

by Luanne Williams

A pair of physical therapy students spent their break between semesters seeing patients in Mexico. Just as important, they also got to see what a difference they can make in people's lives when they put their skills to work.

Six members of a physical therapy team stand in a line.

It’s an image that Wingate University graduate student Jennifer Baity won’t soon forget — the beaming face of a stroke victim, smelling the fresh air and seeing the sunshine. The patient had been confined to his room all spring and summer until Baity and other members of a physical therapy team put their rehab techniques and equipment to work.

“The smile on the patient’s face as we took him outside for the first time in six months was completely priceless,” Baity said. It was one of her favorite parts of a nine-day International Service Learning trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, that she and fellow second-year student Adriene Reavis took earlier this month between semesters of Wingate’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

The 40-year-old man weighed about 250 pounds and had suffered two strokes that left him bedfast and his family helpless to move him.

“We visited this family multiple times, treating him with all the techniques for stroke rehab you showed us,” Baity told Becky Bliss, assistant professor of physical therapy, via email. “Also, thanks to donated medical equipment from U.S. families, we took the family a Hoyer lift and a tilt-in-space wheelchair, so that we could transport the patient outside and allow him to remain in an upright posture several times throughout the day.”

Besides the stroke victim, the team – which included Baity, Reavis, a PT student from another school, a licensed physical therapist and an interpreter – treated a toddler with a traumatic brain injury, a 35-year-old mother with an acute inversion ankle sprain and a 78-year-old man with an above-knee amputation, whom they fitted with a prosthetic.

Baity, who is from Denver, N.C., said she and Reavis, a Yadkinville native, were able to share their faith with the family of the stroke victim while teaching them how to use the lift and offering other daily-living tips to help the patient have maximum function.

For instance, the patient had right-side neglect, which means his awareness of things in the right side of his field of vision was inhibited. Moving his bed, where he spends most of his day, forced him to use, and therefore improve, his right-side vision.

“His bed was up against the wall, so Adriene and I suggested, much to our patient’s approval, that we should move the head of the bed to the other side so that the patient had to look to his right to see people in the room,” Baity explained.

Each situation was unique, but appreciation from patients and their families was a common theme of the medical mission. Medical house-visits are rare in rural Mexico, so patients and their families were extremely thankful for the help of the PT students.

“I was able to fully appreciate how even just one or two simple things can significantly improve someone’s quality of life,” Reavis said. “Things like a Hoyer lift or a pair of walking shoes to give to a man who likes to walk for exercise but only had cheap sandals.”

Language barrier

Reavis said visiting families in their one-bedroom, often un-air-conditioned homes gave her an opportunity to go the extra mile in administering care.

“Many Mexicans have diabetes or are at high risk for diabetes due to diet and inactivity and do not manage their diabetes very well,” she said. “Whenever I got the chance to give any kind of patient education, I saw it as an opportunity to really show how much I cared about the patient and their long-term health, not just their current primary health concern.”

Reavis admitted that the language barrier made that difficult at times. “It was a personal challenge to not know Spanish well enough to easily form that patient bond, but patient education was a way for me to show that I truly cared about them,” she said.

Two women and a man stand outside of a rehab clinic in Mexico.

In addition to the home care, they volunteered at a local physical rehabilitation clinic, where they were able to share with PT technicians evidence-based practice and treatments they learned at Wingate. “The clinic only had one licensed PT, who visited once or twice a month and would write down all the exercise plans for each patient,” Baity said. “Then the PT techs would carry them out.”

The team spent a day at the public hospital, where they provided patient and family education and recommended patients to clinics that occur several times annually when U.S. physical therapists travel in to serve. They also volunteered at a men’s shelter and a local church clinic at Puerto Penasco, about a two-hour drive south of Arizona.

Despite the heat – average temperatures were 98 to 100 degrees – Baity and Reavis said that they would gladly do it all again and that they hoped more of their classmates would get similar study-abroad opportunities.

“We want everyone to know the value of serving internationally,” Reavis said.

Baity said, “It was so cool seeing the impact that we as future physical therapists could have on people’s lives. I would 100 percent recommend this trip for all PT students and clinicians."

Aug. 23, 2018

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