James Madison University

Remembering Nicaragua: Community Health Care

By Sydney Palese
Posted: June 5, 2014

PHOTO: People in Nicaragua

Brandon Gallo had only two months to prepare for his trip to Nicaragua.  Equipped with a passport, and knowledge gained from his health sciences classes, he was ready to embark on a trip of a lifetime.

Gallo, a senior health sciences and pre-physician’s assistant major left in December 2013 to spend two weeks traveling and surveying the population in Nicaragua.  The goal was to create a census, tour hospitals, and provide health care services to residents in makeshift clinics located in churches throughout the countryside.

He participated in the fifteen-day-long trip through International Service Learning (ISL), a nonprofit group he found through JMU’s International Service Learning Without Borders club.

While working in the clinics in a group of three students, under the guidance of a physician, Gallo and his cohort were tasked with consulting with patients. During these visits, Gallo said he saw patients with a variety of diseases; diabetes was very common.

PHOTO: Brandon Gallo and child

Gallo said that his Introduction to Human Disease (HTH 330) provided essential preparation for this experience.  He was able to identify several diseases, including cholera. He was also able to use his knowledge about community health to educate the residents about how to stop outbreaks of viral infections, like Dengue Fever, by providing information about how to maintain sanitary living spaces and hygiene practices.  He also studied a manual provided by ISL to expand his relevant medical knowledge.

 “My very first patient had diabetes.  He was missing his entire left leg. He sat in a wheelchair made out of two bike tires and a white lawn chair held together with bungee cord,” Gallo said. “He had to have his leg amputated because there was a sore on his left foot due to diabetes. He came to visit us because he found a sore on his right foot.”

Gallo also said that many of the children were living with anemia, which they would treat by prescribing that the children consume a broth made by boiling liver and onions. This drink increased their iron levels.

Gallo’s cohort also visited hospitals, where they observed a caesarean section birth and experienced firsthand the poverty of health care facility conditions in Nicaragua.

Gallo said “All the lockers were rusted.  There was no soap in the containers designated for it.  They don’t use dryers so they would hang their sheets outside after being washed.”

After observing these conditions, Gallo and his group became more motivated than ever to make a difference in these communities.

Gallo described how grateful children were for coloring books and crayons that his cohort gave to them.  When his group left Nicaragua, they donated most of their clothing and shoes to people they met.

PHOTO: Shack

“It was so humbling. When I was there, it felt like all of my problems at home were self-induced,” Gallo said. “It put things into perspective with how privileged we are. It’s easy to look at a documentary or pictures, but living in it is totally different.”

“This trip reinforced that I wanted to be a PA,” Gallo said. “It got me more excited to get going on this path.”  It was important to realize that “our group was their only health care source.”  He said that giving healthy lifestyle advice, including information about dental care and nutrition was very rewarding.

Gallo recalled one instance when, on his way back from a round of home visits, a little boy whose family his group previously met ran out into the street to greet them. He held out his hand and in it was a Nicaraguan Cordoba, the country’s currency. “We told him we did not want payment, but he insisted that he wanted to give it to us as a souvenir. It was so touching. He didn’t have anything, but he still said, ‘Here, take this so you always remember Nicaragua.’”