Volunteer Spotlight

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Meet Dr. Margo Tolins-Mejia, a interventional cardiologist who works both in the clinic and the hospital.  Margo grew up in Long Island, New York. She came to Minnesota to attend Outward Bound during medical school, fell in love with the lakes and the community and (yes) even the winter, and has lived there ever since.

Margo was introduced to CHI through co-founder, Josh White.  Margo and Josh practiced at the same hospital and every time she was called to the ER it seemed Josh was either going to or just back from Haiti.  Margo was fascinated with his stories and experiences.  Her daughter, a third year medical student herself was involved in international health in Bangladesh and Thailand and was always encouraging Margo to participate in global medicine. With her daughter’s support and Josh’s infectious enthusiasm, both inspired Margo to get involved with CHI.

Margo traveled to Haiti for the first time in January 2013 to provide care in Arcahaie. Although the majority of the work she was doing was general care, from treating intestinal parasites to vitamin supplementation, Margo was also able to put her cardiology training to good use. A young woman came to the clinic one evening for evaluation. “We initially thought she was pregnant - her abdomen was very distended” explained Margo. Through the use of echo and physical exam they were able to rule out pregnancy and make the correct diagnosis:  a severe cardiomyopathy (heart failure).  The patient was started on cardiac medications and arrangements were made for follow-up with the Haitian community health care workers. All pieces of care needed for a successful recovery.

Margo’s biggest misconception of Haiti was the thought of feeling unsafe during her travels due to the travel advisory the US put out 4 days before she left.  “ I was expecting to feel very unsafe while in Haiti. That was not the case.” Margo shares.  While at Mission Mantana, Margo and other team member’s traveled freely, went for runs/walks through the nearby village, hiked over the mountain for a mobile clinic-all without worry.

“I feel privileged to have met this amazing group of people and to have participated in an excellently run global medicine program in Haiti. I only hope our work had meaningful and long-lasting results, and that I will be able to return one day.” – Dr. Margo Tolins-Mejia

         
       

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Meet Jessica Yagla  "I believe in the power of working hard every day to create what is deepest in the heart and soul...I believe we should all help each other along. I believe there is goodness everywhere and I believe in both seeking it out and in constantly creating more of it. I believe in a very loving God. I believe in you and I believe in me." -Unknown

Those are words that Jessica Yagla chooses to live by. She was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa. Currently Jessica is a full time student at the University of Iowa, studying Elementary Education. On the side she works at Deluxe Cakes & Pastries and a server at Blackstone Restaurant.

Through Jessica's father Steve Yagla (Our TEBOW Guru) she was introduced to CHI as she traveled to Haiti for the first time in January 2012 as a non-medical volunteer. She served as a helping hand, assisting patients to where they needed to be and experienced a variety of jobs such as registration and pharmacy. Jessica came back with so many amazing experiences, pictures and stories to share with family and friends. It took very little for Jessica to get attached to our initiative and signing up for another trip.

Jessica advocates that CHI is an amazing organization that not only focuses on the health and medical issues of the Haitian people, but their community and spirit as well. She expresses that trips do not just provide medicine and physical care, but bind hearts, create and build relationships, and connect on a level far beyond one human helping another.

Jessica's favorite memory of her trip was when her dad and herself brought an abundance of used soccer gear (jerseys shorts, socks, soccer balls, cones, etc.) down because her brother-in-law is a coach at the local high school, City High. After clinic one day, the team helped carry the equipment to Do Digue (a nearby village.) Before handing out the donated gear, they played a friendly game of 5 on 5. The teams consisted of three "blans" (a Haitian term for "white people") and two Haitian interpreters against five other local Haitians. "We had little faith" Jessica admitted.

Now envision the playing environment. A dirt soccer field, where the goals were one foot in height by one foot in length, and the locals played in broken shoes or bare feet. Within five minutes of playing, the entire village from young to old had gathered around the dirt field, filling the atmosphere with smiles, laughter, excitement and connectedness.

To Jessica's surprise, her team held their ground and only lost 1 to 0! As the thick film of dirt started to form around their legs and sweat was pouring down, the game ended in a victory for all despite the score. The two teams of Do Digue gathered and were presented with their gifts. The joy and gratitude that Jessica saw was an indescribable feeling that has left and everlasting impression on Jessica.

Present day, Jessica is part of a planning committee for "Hawks4Haiti" whom is partnering up with CHI to provide a soccer clinic & tournament in a local community January 4-14th 2014.

"Hawks4Haiti" plans to refurbish a soccer field equipped with regulation soccer goals and spectator bleachers. With the help from a CHI medical team who will be down in Haiti the same week, they will provide physicals for all the players as well.

For complete information on "Hawks4Haiti" soccer clinic & tournament and or how to donate to the cause please visit: http://www.chihaiti.org/events1/  

         
       

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Meet Kim Holesinger, a graduate of the University of Iowa nursing program.  Kim originates from Clinton, IA and currently lives in Iowa City, IA.  Team Leader Casey Panko introduced CHI to Kim by speaking in one of her nursing classes.  Kim thought it sounded like a great opportunity to help others, and always wanted to travel and do something worthwhile.  Since CHI seemed fitting for her ambitions, Kim signed up weeks before the March team departed to Arcahaie.

This was the first time Kim was ever out of the country, let alone traveling on a medical trip like this.  Through the exceptional team leadership provided by Chris Buresh and Casey Panko, Kim was able to ease any fears and fully enjoy her experiences.  " I felt I could always come to them for anything I needed help with or if I just needed to talk" Kim shares.

Lately Kim has been living by a bible verse: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord.  "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future,"- Jeremiah 29:11.  Kim believes we don't really have control over what the path our lives are going to take, so she is just living and seeing what things come to her.  "Luckily one of those things was CHI" Kim says.

Over the week of her trip Kim worked in the treatment room, triage, and pharmacy.  Since Kim will be a graduate nursing student this May, she was allowed to help by doing some nursing skills, such as starting an IV and changing the dressing on a wound.

Kim's favorite memory from her trip was when a group of volunteers, including herself helped care for a little boy Caleb, who was no more than 3 years old if she had to guess.  Caleb was seen in the mobile clinic in Fon Dahl who already had a series of past medical problems.  Caleb had a brain deformity called hydrocephalus, which caused fluid to build up in his head.  Previously Caleb had a shunt implanted to drain the fluid to his abdomen.  But now, Caleb came to the clinic with a very infected abscessed wound on his leg.  Doctors feared if the bacteria reached the lower end of the shunt, the infection could be fatal.

Caleb and his mother were transferred to Mission Matana where CHI was staying so they could give extended care until the morning, when he would be taken to a near by hospital.  Kim, along with Dr. Chris Buresh, Mike Barthman, nurse Casey Panko and interpeters Julmies and Jean Claude cleaned his wound again that night.  "As Mike poured saline solution on the wound to clean it, Chris started singing Frere Jaques.  Within seconds, all joined in and were singing to little Caleb to calm him down. " It was a moment Kim will always remember.

         
       

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Meet Paul Elbing, a ER Physician in Amery Wisconsin.  Paul connected with Community Health Initiative through his daughter Rachel who was doing her PA residency at the University of Iowa and met CHI co-founder, Dr. Chris Buresh.

In June 2013, Paul traveled to Haiti with no misconceptions at hand, but an open and eager mind.  He had an astonishing experience filled with many memorable stories.  His favorite story to share was when he was in the Caribbean Sea for an early morning dip when he gazed over and saw approximately a dozen fishermen, ranging in ages from 10-40 years old.  Most likely a fishing family he thought. .  He waded over to join them and started pulling in on the heavy ropes that were attached to their nets. "I was there approximately 45 minutes and although we were unable to communicate through language we still were able to laugh together and simply enjoy each other's company as we attended to the task at hand" Paul shares.  He contemplated why can't this happen across the planet? Two totally dissimilar people in so many ways (black/white, poor/rich, educated/illiterate, English/Creole etc) but sharing a common goal to bring in the "catch". Paul's only regret was that he forgot the Creole he was taught the night before!

When asked the question "what would you tell people about CHI?" Paul responded, "I have been on other mission trips and CHI has the most practical approach I've seen. They don't just treat the disease that most likely will come back unless they also treat the water, the sanitation, the uneducated on how disease spread, etc.  CHI is not afraid to get "down and dirty" yet they do so with passion and commitment to a cause MANY are afraid to engage in. They also are not just handing out more free stuff but are empowering the Haitians to take responsibility themselves.

Lastly, as Paul reflects on his trip he shares these thoughts... "We are all creating our own "book of life" and I thank you for inviting me into one of your chapters and for sharing some of your wonderful stories with me. Continue to fill your book with people and not with "the stuff" we Americans are told everyday will make us happy!"

         
         
       

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Meet Bobby Schmidt, a medical student from St. Paul, MN. Bobby got connected with CHI through one of the physicians he worked with as a medical scribe. Bobby's first CHI trip was in January of 2013 to Les Anglais. Recently, his second trip was to Arcahaie. One of the first and continuing reasons Bobby volunteers with CHI is the organization's dedication to working with and empowering Haitians. "CHI strives to develop relationships with the Haitian community and work in solidarity to address the issues the country faces. CHI understands that charity will not fix Haiti's problems. Instead, they have developed a system that includes Haitians and promotes partnership," stated Bobby. By doing so, Bobby feels CHI rises above other organizations and truly makes a difference.

Before his first trip, one of Bobby's biggest concerns about Haiti was the safety. He said prior to going on his first trip that he heard stories about the amount of crime and danger he would face. However, Bobby found this to be one of his biggest misconceptions. "I felt very comfortable and safe throughout both of my trips. The Haitian people are very hospitable, friendly, and were incredibly welcoming to our presence. Not once did I feel like I was in harm's way. I also thought the team leaders prepared me for what I would experience, and this helped alleviate any uncertainty" he explains.

Bobby shared that one of the greatest parts of the entire trip was developing relationships with the other team members. "It is amazing how quickly 30 strangers formed friendships, and I have no doubt this was largely due to our outstanding leadership. The team leaders were incredibly fair in their decision making and were very wiling to listen to the other team members," he says. Bobby never felt like there was a hierarchy among the group. Everyone was very receptive to others' ideas and suggestions, and he felt this led to a strong sense of camaraderie.

Bobby had so many great experiences on his two trips that it was hard to name his favorite. One moment that stuck out was the 1.5 hour hike up the mountain to set up a mobile clinic in a small village called Fóndol. "It was a great way to experience the natural beauty of Haiti's landscape" Bobby says. He also had the chance to chat and practice his Kreyol with Haitians who were going up and down the mountain. Another highlight of the trip for Bobby was playing soccer with several of the translators and hotel employess after a long day of working at the clinic. "I have played soccer my entire life, and continue to play to this day, and I understand how something as simple as a soccer ball and two goals can bring people together" Bobby shares. Not only did he get to know the translators and local people better through this game, more importantly, it demonstrated how a shared passion could unite people from such different backgrounds. Throughout the course of the week following this soccer game, Bobby continued to talk soccer with the translators and even watched some professional games on television with them in the evenings.   

         
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Meet Samantha Wasala, originally from Park Ridge, IL who will be entering her junior year at the University of Iowa this Fall. Samantha is majoring in biology and hoping to pursue a career in the medical field. With this interest in mind, she was very eager to have had an opportunity to be hands on in the treatment room during her first trip to Haiti this past June.  Samantha assisted in the treatment room, pharmacy, and triage room. "Not a minute was wasted" she shared. Samantha jumped right in to administer shots, medical tests, and taking blood pressures. By the end of the first day, she was completely at ease with these procedures.  Samantha loved working in the treatment room. "Not only was it a life changing experience, but a lot of fun too" she exclaims!

One memorable day was busy from the start. A little girl came in with burns all over her leg and next was a girl who had a piece of glass stuck in her foot. Before Samantha knew it, there was a mini surgery-taking place in their makeshift treatment room.However, in spite of all the patients Samantha saw walk through the treatment room that day, she will never forget a brave and courageous couple with leprosy. "Despite being diagnosed with this horrible disease, they didn't complain as we cleaned off their wounds, and they bravely went out living their lives. Their ability to continue to fight through the most difficult matters truly inspired me" Samantha described.

Throughout her journeys Samantha lives by a phrase her uncle often used, "Where ever you go, there you are." Samantha responded, "You never know where you will end up, who you will meet, and all you can do is make the best out of it all. Life has a funny way of getting you to where you should be and it's important to take every chance you get, wherever it may be."

         
         
         

 

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