When Washington University cross country student-athlete Abby Martin's uncle needed students and translators for a medical mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua, she jumped at the chance.
Martin is a sophomore and a pre-med student who started taking Spanish as a freshman in high school and took it again last semester at Washington U. She is interested in international medicine with a long-term goal of working with Doctors Without Borders.
She heard about the project from her uncle, an orthopedic surgeon in Delaware. He works with a company that makes medical equipment and works with the non-profit organization La Merced, which is comprised of volunteer health care workers, business and legal professionals, engineers, contractors, educators, and students who have united for the common goal of helping those in countries abroad. Currently, there are two La Merced trips per year to the Nicarguan capital, one in January centered around physical therapy and the orthopedic surgery six-day trip in June that Martin joined.
On the first day, the students learn the basics of how to draw up injections.
"We talked to a lot of the residents, doctors who work there and those who had only been there a couple of months and we heard about how limited the resources are," Martin commented. "Some people have been waiting 20 days just to get a fracture fixed because they only have one drill to use."
There were two separate missions on the trip. One was more medicine-based at the Roberto Clemente Clinic created by La Merced that involved cortisone shots and more superficial conditions like skin-level cysts.
Martin worked at the hospital, which focused on knee and hip replacements as well as carpal tunnel surgeries. She was involved in five knee replacements, including two bilateral, and two hip replacements. "It was an amazing experience," Martin recalled. "I had never even been in an operating room before."
L: Martin suturing with the help of a doctor; R: Martin assisting with a knee surgery.
One patient Martin found particularly unforgettable was a woman who had been waiting 19 days in the hospital with a hip fracture. Originally, the patient's age and condition made her ineligible for a procedure, but eventually she did get a hip replacement while Martin was there and it went well.
"The whole experience was absolutely life-changing," Martin said. "Not only the surgeries, but also learning the language better and seeing the personal side of it all. Patients and families were so thankful for the care they received at no cost. They were crying and hugging us."
"The trip reaffirmed that I want to go into medicine," Martin stated. "I also want to continue working with La Merced. They are an incredible group of people and the leaders are inspirational."
Martin's only regret was that since she only found out she would be making the trip two months ahead of time and was still taking classes and exams, she was not able to raise funds and awareness for the trip. She hopes to bring awareness to the plight of those internationally who have so few resources. For more information, please visit La-Merced.org.
The entire group poses for a photo on the final day of the mission.