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PT Students Treat Patients
in Ecuador During Spring Break

Over Spring Break, a team of four second year University of Kentucky PT students, a UK PT graduate, a UK Professor and a UK Spanish masters student all traveled to Ecuador for a Spring Break service trip.

Breathtaking, exciting, unforgettable, eventful, emotional, and educational, are all words to describe the experience. We saw much of the culture, landscape, and attractions that Ecuador has to offer, but the greatest impact was made and felt in the clinic and the homes of the people. For three days we traveled with a community health worker to give physical therapy care in an underserved community in Santo Domingo de Los Tsachilas, at Centro Medico Hombro a Hombro (Shoulder to Shoulder) clinic where UK has had a long standing affiliation as Shoulder to Shoulder Global.

Our hearts were racing on the first morning; it was time to transfer the knowledge of examinations and treatments and put them into action; a challenge that we were excited to embrace. Then our first patient walked through the door, a man who had been hit by a car two years prior with his right leg still casted, and we realized the challenge was greater than anticipated.

As we removed the bandages to find a non-union fracture and abscess which had been keeping this man from work, we understood the desperation of the people, but also discovered their significant perseverance. Though we were unable to address the unhealed fracture, we offered him education about how to care for his wound and strengthen his leg, and advised him to see the doctor in the clinic. He left with such gratitude, even for the little assistance that we could offer him under the circumstances.

This is just one snapshot of the multitude of experiences we had that week. We evaluated and treated patients with cerebral palsy, myasthenia gravis, low back pain, orthopedic injuries, people recovering from stroke, and several patients injured in motor vehicle accidents. We adapted to work with minimal resources, and though we were not equipped with the luxuries of a typical physical therapy gym, the foundation was to provide education and home exercise programs that they could incorporate into their everyday life activities.

On trips like this it is often easy to see the blessing in our own lives comparatively, but we were encouraged to investigate what we could gain from the Ecuadorian people. Not only were we able to provide them with some education, but they were able to teach us a great deal from their culture and how they embrace each other as family. Their generous hearts, large enough to carry their family and friends through any illness, were also extended to our team.

“Family comes first” is a key concept that our group discovered was most important to the people to an extent that is often lacking in the lives of those in our society. We developed an appreciation that, even in the midst of their “poverty” and lack of health care, they had more than enough love, compassion and generosity in their lives to teach us the value of human connection.

One physician with whom we had the opportunity to work described our physical therapy efforts with this quote, “You are teaching them how to fish, not just giving them fish.” Although, we were not fishing on this trip, the analogy still holds true to our profession as we try to improve the quality of life of all our patients.

From this experience we hope to have made an impact on the lives of others, but we are so appreciative of the immense, lasting impression that the Ecuadorian people made on our future therapy practice and our hearts.

—Dustin Brown, Katelin Fane, Ellen Magee and Casey Overbee
UK PT Class of 2011

For more information about Shoulder to Shoulder, visit www.shouldertoshoulderky.org
For more about the UK Physical Therapy program, visit www.mc.uky.edu/pt