Hudson grads get hands-on experience in NicaraguaA service trip to Nicaragua earlier this month solidified the career plans of two Hudson High School graduates. Katie Kenall knows she wants to be a physical therapist or physician’s assistant, and Melanie Iverson is even more certain of her desire to become a veterinarian.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
A service trip to Nicaragua earlier this month solidified the career plans of two Hudson High School graduates.
Katie Kenall knows she wants to be a physical therapist or physician’s assistant after working as a volunteer nurse at temporary medical clinics on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua.
Melanie Iverson is even more certain of her desire to become a veterinarian after serving in veterinary clinics that were also part of the service trip.
The two are juniors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They traveled to Nicaragua Jan. 9-17 with the non-profit service organization Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures, better known by its acronym VIDA.
VIDA provides free medical, dental and veterinary services to rural and other underserved communities in Central America.
Kenall and Iverson were part of a group of 39 college students (all but three from UW-Madison) who participated in the mission to Ometepe Island, located in Lake Nicaragua.
The 60,000 people who live on the tropical island are poor, and have little access to medical care.
The group set up a clinic for two days at a school in the community of Las Sabana, and then traveled to the city of Balgue, where clinics were held for two more days in another school.
Kenall, the 21-year old daughter of Lee and Kelly Kenall, said people would arrive at 7:30 to 8 a.m. to get a number and wait to see a doctor.
Kenall and other student volunteers served as intake nurses. They recorded patients’ social histories and checked their vital signs —temperature, blood pressure, and heart and respiratory rates.
The three medical doctors who met them on Ometepe Island — two from Nicaragua and one from Costa Rica — taught the students how to take vital signs during a first-day orientation.
Kenall said they also inquired about the patients’ medical problems, and reported what they learned to the doctors.
“We would present the case to the doctor after we completed the interview process. The doctor would ask, So what do you think it is?” Kenall said. “We would go around and give our two cents on what we thought it was. She would either agree or disagree. If she disagreed, she would ask, ‘Why are you wrong?’”
“It was a really good learning experience,” Kenall said.
The most typical problem was people suffering the effects of having parasite worms in their bodies. The symptoms included malnourishment and anemia.
The doctors dispensed de-worming and other medications. The group brought donated medical and dental supplies from the United States, including toothbrushes and toothpaste from Dr. Robert Bardill’s dental office in North Hudson.
The volunteers also distributed donated toys and clothing.
“Prior to this, I was kind of up in the air about doing something in the medical field. Now I definitely do,” said Kenall. “I want to go back down there and help out in Third World countries with my medical degree, because they really don’t have anything down there.”
Kenall is a rehabilitation psychology major at UW-Madison and plans to go on to graduate school after receiving her graduate degree.
The 20-year-old Iverson, daughter of David and Boni Iverson, also reported having a good experience in Nicaragua.
Iverson was one of seven student volunteers who worked with a native veterinarian and veterinary assistant.
“We got to do a lot of hands-on stuff,” she said, reporting to have been involved in suturing wounds and spaying and neutering dogs.
“I’ve done a lot of (job) shadowing and volunteering here in Madison, and in Hudson, too,” Iverson said. “But usually you can’t do any hands-on stuff. It’s more just watching. So it was cool to actually get to participate.”
The experience confirmed for her that she wants to be a veterinarian, Iverson said. She is a pre-veterinary student at UW-Madison and has a job in a biology lab.
The first three days of the clinics, the veterinary team saw small animals — almost entirely dogs.
The volunteers also took the animals’ vital signs, gave rabies vaccinations and de-worming medication, cleaned ears and clipped nails.
The final day, they worked with large animals — horses, goats and pigs, primarily.
Iverson once had a horse of her own, so she was used to being around them, but working with pigs was new.
“The pigs were not happy. They were screaming. We had to use our muscles. It was hard work,” she said with a laugh. “Holding down those pigs and goats was a different experience.”
Kenall and Iverson have been friends since their days together on the Raidaires dance team at Hudson High School.
They’ve traveled in different circles at UW-Madison, however, until they signed up for the VIDA service mission, each without knowing that the other was going.
They roomed together on the trip, along with two other volunteers.
The volunteers had two pleasure days in Nicaragua. They went zip-lining above a rainforest one day, and visited the historic city of Granada the other day.
“It was a cool experience. I would recommend it to any person who is trying to figure out if they want to be a doctor, veterinarian or dentist,” Iverson said.