Nursing Students Provide Disaster Assistance

Entire Villages Leveled by Tropical Storm Agatha

07-14-2010
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A backhoe clears a road buried in a mudslide when Tropical Storm Agatha hit San Lucas, Guatemala May 29.

A University of San Francisco School of Nursing immersion trip to San Lucas Mission in Guatemala to provide prenatal care quickly became a disaster relief effort after Tropical Storm Agatha came ashore May 29, turning roads into rivers, causing landslides, and killing dozens.

The storm buried crops across the region, blocked roads preventing relief from arriving, and killed more than 150 across Guatemala alone, before moving on to El Salvador and Honduras.

The day Agatha made land in Guatemala, Linda Walsh, associate professor of nursing and a midwife, with the assistance of four of the nine student nurses on the trip, attended two deliveries. During one of the births, the local clinic’s lights flickered on an off intermittently.

“Luckily, the electricity was working at the time the baby was born,” Walsh said.

Located on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the mission in San Lucas Toliman has worked with indigenous locals on land, housing, health, and education issues for more than four decades. As part of Walsh’s Global Issues and Community Health course, USF nursing students partner with the mission to deliver prenatal care and education and screen expectant mothers in surrounding villages for complications during intersession immersion trips in both the winter and summer.

Realizing the usual prenatal education needs had been overtaken by emergency relief demands, Walsh and her students (who were housed safely on solid ground at the mission) nimbly adjusted their focus to do what they could to aid relief efforts. That included taking inventory, stockpiling, and making recommendations for items needed for hygiene and to prevent infection among large groups of displaced residents living in crowded quarters.

“We pulled together and shifted our nursing care instead of abandoning our cause in the community,” said senior USF nursing student Suki Rayne, who admitted being a bit scared when the storm first hit.

But, in experiencing the numerous houses swept away by landslides, seeing the roads in and out of San Lucas rendered impassable by mud and large boulders, and witnessing the struggle of people to find shelter, she came to a deeper understanding of her role as a nurse, Rayne said.

“I was able to learn firsthand the significance of assessing the ongoing and changing needs of a community in crisis – something that would have been impossible to replicate in a classroom,” Rayne said.

She hopes the work her fellow nursing students did will ultimately help minimize preventable conditions, such as hypothermia, diarrhea, dehydration, and the spread of communicable diseases among local residents as they begin to rebuild, Rayne said.

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu