Being able to provide health care to people for the first time is something Erin Bane will remember for the rest of her life.
Of the hundreds of people she and her group from Butler University in Indianapolis recently helped in Ecuador, a 10-year-old girl stood out.
Bane was able to sit down with an interpreter and teach the girl how to use an inhaler, which she had long needed to be able to live a normal life.
“I thought, ‘If we weren’t here, if she didn’t get that education, it would have been hard for her to run and play,'” said Bane, 24, a 2012 Brownstown Central High School graduate. “Now, she has that to where she can just be a kid and get to experience life a little bit easier.”
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After two weeks in Ecuador, Bane said she was ready to go back. It was that rewarding of an experience.
“We had reflections two nights a week, and it was just nice to all come together and really reflect on how much we were impacting these people’s lives and how much we’re changing their lives,” she said. “They are going to walk away from this experience with better health. To think that you were a part of actually improving someone’s health, it’s priceless. You can’t really describe it.”
The trip was a partnership with Timmy Global Health, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that expands access to health care and empowers students and volunteers to tackle today’s most pressing global health challenges, according to its website. It believes all people, regardless of who they are, what resources they have and where they live, should have access to quality health care.
The organization focuses on providing short-term medical service programs and long-term health solutions at 10 community-based project sites in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nigeria.
Bane was one of 10 Butler pharmacy students making the most recent trip. A pharmacy professor also joined them, along with a pharmacist and two physician assistants who are Butler graduates. Medical students from Ecuador served as interpreters.
The trip is an option for Butler pharmacy students who are in their sixth and final year of college. It can be one of the 10 one-month rotations they do in that school year.
“I like to serve, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to go down there and to actually use whatever I’ve learned in school to practice in a different country,” Bane said. “And I had never been out of the country, so I just wanted a new experience and to see health care in a different light.”
Bane applied in the fall of 2016 and found out she was selected over Christmas break.
“It was just kind of a cherry on top of the semester being over and learning you get to go on that, just excitement right away,” she said. “Even though you have eight or so months until you’re actually leaving, just to be able to tell people that you have that opportunity was really neat.”
In January, the group starting meeting monthly to come up with ways to raise funds for medication and supplies to take to Ecuador and recruit professionals to go with them on the trip.
They had to raise $500 to cover medications and supplies and wound up with more than $800.
Each person filled a suitcase with items, and Timmy Global Health partnered with a nonprofit in Ecuador to distribute all of it.
Bane was in charge of medical recruitment, so she and the other students sent three emails to an organization, a doctor or a large hospital to line up medical providers.
Each group member also did a topic discussion based on something they might see in Ecuador.
One was on parasites because a lot of people in Ecuador have to have treatments because the water is not very clean.
“They don’t have access to filters and things like that,” Bane said. “Especially the second week when we were in a bigger city, all of the water was pretty contaminated. We couldn’t even brush our teeth with the water for fear of parasites. We all ended up taking a parasite treatment before we came home. It’s just really common there, and it causes a lot of complications, stomachaches and things like that.”
Other topic discussions were fungal infections and altitude sickness, and Bane’s was on pediatric dosing of different medications.
The first week, Bane said they were in the mountains at nearly 12,000 feet elevation, so it was important to take medicine and stay hydrated.
In Guangaje, most of the people were nearly two hours from a doctor’s site, so some of them had never seen a doctor or experienced health care before, she said.
“Week 1 was just really eye-opening because these patients aren’t used to receiving health care. It’s not a part of their everyday lives,” she said.
“For me, it kind of shows you how we sometimes take for granted what we have here (in America),” Bane said. “We complain about sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or how much we have to pay for one of our prescriptions at the pharmacy, but these people are just so thankful and so grateful that they even get to see a doctor one time out of the year.”
Bane said each day, they left their hotel at 6:30 a.m., arrived in Guangaje around 8 a.m. and spent an hour setting up before seeing patients.
The medical program coordinator, who lives in Ecuador, had spent a couple of weeks giving tickets to the president of the community to hand out to people and going door to door.
“Normally, we would get there, and patients would already be lined up with their ticket,” Bane said. “We would try to see at least 100, but if there were 30 more patients lined up, we would see them. We wouldn’t turn them away because they didn’t have a ticket.”
After registering, the patients went to the history station, where with the help of an interpreter, they shared how they felt and why they were there.
Then their vital signs were taken before seeing a doctor.
A pharmacy student would enter in any medication prescribed by the doctor.
After the patient went to the pharmacy to pick up their prescription, a pharmacy student helped counsel them on the medication.
The group saw 513 people the first week, and 76 were referred to specialists.
Then the second week in Santo Domingo, they saw 381 patients and referred 43 of them to specialists.
The patients ranged from infants to as old as 107.
Bane said they all expressed their appreciation for the health care they received.
“One morning, we pulled up and there were probably 30 kids standing around waving and jumping up and down. They all shook our hands and said, ‘Good morning’ in Spanish,'” she said. “They were just so happy that you were there and thankful.”
The president of each community also thanked them.
“I remember one said, ‘It’s such a vulnerable population, and for you to come and help us in this way is such a blessing,'” Bane said.
As they were leaving Ecuador, the group traded supplies with a Timmy Global Health group from the University of Notre Dame.
“Once they establish a site somewhere, then they’ll start sending groups every three months,” Bane said. “That way, we can get them 90-day supplies of medications, and then from that point on, they can have care every three months.”
The trip allowed Bane to understand the importance of making connections with patients, no matter if there is a language or any other type of barrier.
“Just talking to them and them seeing that you are invested in their health care and care about what’s going on with them makes all the difference,” she said. “That’s what makes them so thankful that you’re there.”
The trip to Ecuador was Bane’s sixth rotation, and she recently began her seventh, which is working at Cummins LiveWell Center in Columbus.
Her last three will be at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour in January, Genoa Healthcare in Columbus in February and Columbus Regional Health in March.
After she receives her doctorate of pharmacy in May, Bane will have to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination and Indiana law exam. In early August, she hopes to have her license.
She said she would like to work at a community pharmacy in the Seymour area.
“My goal is to find a job where I have more opportunities to counsel,” she said. “I love to sit down with patients and go over all of the medications and talk about the most important things with them and get people more organized.”
If other students have an opportunity to travel abroad to make a difference, Bane said they should go for it.
“I know it’s scary sometimes to travel out of the country and go someplace new, someplace you’re the minority, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know all of the cultural norms and everything, but it’s definitely something that’s worth it, and it will teach you about appreciating what you have here at home, as well,” she said. “I would highly recommend it.”
For information about Timmy Global Health, visit timmyglobalhealth.org.