Faculty, students participate in Dominican Republic Mission Trip

June 8, 2010

The following excerpt was originally posted on the Bradley University DPT Student Blog (http://www.budpt.blogspot.com/) by Dr. Cheryl Sparks in October 2009.

Dorothy Fernandez DPT '10 and Dr. Dawn Hall visit a patient in the Dominican Republic.

You may have read about the last Dominican Republic Mission Trip in the June 2009 issue of Connective Issue or read the article written by Heather Hall BU DPT ’11 in the October/November 2009 issue of PT Priority. This past October, Dr. Cheryl Sparks, DPT, OCS, and Dr. Dawn Hall, PT, PhD, with students Dorothy Fernandez DPT ’10 and Abigail Walk DPT ’10 traveled as part of a health care team to San Juan de la Maguana (a city three hours from Santo Domingo near the Haitian border) during fall break to provide physical therapy services.

Every day we examined patients in San Juan at a rehabilitation facility associated with a local hospital. This clinic provides physical therapy to patients in the area, however, in most cases the people cannot afford the “luxury” of these services. The need for physical therapy appears to be the same as in the United States. San Juan proper is home to about 130,000 people, and the rehab facility is the only one between San Juan and Santo Domingo (about a three-hour drive). It would be like having one PT clinic within 200 miles—only the drive to get there would be much more interesting with partially paved roads and intermittent livestock crossings.

Dr. Cheryl Sparks, Dorothy Fernandez DPT '10, Abigail Walk DPT '10, and Dr. Dawn Hall serve as part of a health care team in San Juan de la Maguana during fall break 2009.

Diagnoses included SCI, CVA, BKA, and patients with numerous neuromusculoskeletal issues including many complaints of mechanical neck and LBP. In addition, we saw a number of patients with diagnoses we probably just wouldn’t have the opportunity to manage in the United States. For example, a man with neurofibromatosis had a 40-pound tumor removed from his leg. Had the tumor not been removed, the man would have undergone an amputation without receiving an artificial limb, as it was my perception that prosthetic limbs in this part of the Dominican Republic are not readily available to all.

Another patient had significant scarring on his chest and axillary region from a burn he received as a child. As a direct result of this, he has had limited function in his right upper extremity for the majority of his life. Because of the widespread access we have to quality health care in our own country, conditions like these would be addressed much earlier in a patient’s life and long before mechanical problems developed.

Dorothy, Dawn, and Abigail were involved in pre- and post-op management and assisted in both surgeries. In just a week’s time, they were able to make a significant difference in these patients’ lives.

Abigail Walk DPT '10 stands among Dominican Republic schoolchildren.

Another cool thing on this trip was the opportunity to examine new patients, reexamine current ones, and teach health care providers another approach to patient management. During our short stay, the physical therapy team addressed the needs of more than 70 patients and the surgical team performed 37 surgeries. While we were there, the entire Mission Awareness Team delivered more than 1,600 pounds of food.

On our last night, we had dinner with those who had played a key role in making our trip a success. They graciously thanked us for our service, but I assure you, the pleasure was ours. We are looking forward to returning to participate in future opportunities in both teaching and patient care.

Currently, Bradley DPT students and professors are planning another trip to the Dominican Republic in February to lend a helping hand again to the patients in San Juan de la Maguana.