Andrea Hooley’s first experiences in Haiti more than 15 years ago had a lot to do with why she became a nurse – and rekindled her aspirations to return there on a recent medical mission.
Hooley joined eight volunteers — including three UCHealth employees — on a weeklong trip to rural Haiti in late April. The volunteers, who paid $2,000 out of their own pockets, plus airfare, were part of a team of mostly medical professionals dispatched by Project C.U.R.E. to provide public health education, direct care, treatment and training.
“Part of what Project C.U.R.E. does is deliver medical supplies to places in need, and the other part is to run clinic trips and provide training in specific areas,” said Ligita Cunningham, organizational development consultant with UCHealth Employee Engagement. “Currently, all of our UCHealth hospitals participate in donating used medical supplies to them in addition to employees choosing to volunteer for trips.”
For Hooley, her return to Haiti was significant because this time she had the tools and skills to help.
During her initial visits to Haiti, she served with the Peace Corps and was tasked with writing grants and project proposals for agricultural and water projects, having just earned her bachelor’s in cultural anthropology
“Once I was on the ground in Haiti, I realized I didn’t know how to do anything but write papers,” she said. “Most foreigners there were medical, so people would approach me with some sort of health problem — I remember a burned child once — and I didn’t have any medical knowledge or advice other than what I could get from my Peace Corps medical kit.”
When Hooley returned to the United States at age 25 — too old, she thought, to become a doctor — she went into nursing school and was hired at Poudre Valley Hospital. She took advantage of the hospital’s fast-track to a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and now is a registered nurse and transitional care case manager for UCHealth Family Medicine Center Residency.
Hooley returned to Haiti to get in touch with her original health care aspirations: health equality and social justice.
“It is easier to see yourself making more of a difference in places like Haiti because you can literally save a life by treating a urinary tract infection,” she said. “That is just as important here, but you see it more there, and it rekindles that original inspiration of ‘yes, I’m a nurse, and I know what to do.’”
The group left April 22, led by a Project C.U.R.E leader who had traveled to Haiti more than 40 times, Hooley said. The UCHealth volunteers included two registered nurses, Hooley and Beyron Zecher; Christine Law, a medical assistant; and Julie Mullica, infection preventionist. Other members from the Denver area included an epidemiologist in public health, a dentist, pediatrician and lawyer. Accommodations were provided through partnerships between Project C.U.R.E. and other organizations with similar goals in Haiti.
The first day, they became familiar with what Project C.U.R.E. had available for the team, from tools to medications, Hooley said.
On day three, they held their first clinic at a countryside school. The nurses ran triage, the dentist examined teeth — and everyone supported each other.
“We got huge crowds, and we triaged all the patients to determine who needed to see the doctors. Most did need to be seen,” Hooley said. “We saw a lot of skin infections, fevers, stomach complaints, rotten teeth. We were giving out worm pills. … But we weren’t even able to see everyone who came.”
The team moved to a new clinic site on day four. At each site, the team worked with Haitian doctors and nurses to run the clinics.
“Part of the idea is not just to get more people through the clinic but to have a cultural exchange,” Hooley said. “We learned how they do things, and they had fun with our gadgets. It’s different there – what they look for and are accustomed to looking for — like anemia. We would just do lab work, but they look at eyelids and hair color. We just don’t come across completely malnourished people here as often.’’
Her appreciation for the basic infrastructure and preventative care that keeps Americans healthy has grown, she said.
“It’s amazing how different it looks just getting that preventative care,” she said.
With only a week in Haiti, Hooley knew that she would play only a small part in the health of the Haiti people. She found it difficult to know that after the people received medical care, they’d return to social and economic circumstances that were perpetuating their health problems, she said.
“It can be more gratifying delivering Western medicine because there are immediately beneficial outcomes,” she said.
“Haiti is an intense place and it can be unsettling but, at the same time, everything you do there brings into perspective what’s important. You see the intensity of how things could be, but it’s also so beautiful. The people and kids — they are a very proud people, and they carry that with them and it rubs off in a way.”
It’s rubbed off a bit on Hooley and rekindled her original inspirations for becoming a nurse in the first place. And for that, she’s grateful.
Women’s care in Paraguay
Ligita Cunningham, organizational development consultant with UCHealth Employee Engagement, is recruiting UCHealth employees for a Project C.U.R.E. trip to Paraguay. Scheduled Sept. 15-24, the mission is to bring women and children’s health care to Paragiau through medical clinics and training. The team needs two physicians, two advanced practitioners, four nurses, and two certified nursing assistants, emergency medical technicians or other medical professionals. Cost is $2,100 per person (tax-deductible) plus airfare.
“We’ll be providing education and resources about contraception, family planning and cervical cancer screenings,” she said. “And we’ll be training the local midwives and nurses in their hospitals.”
Although the work will be in women’s care, volunteers can come from any department, Cunningham said.
“While we do great things for our Colorado communities, it’s amazing to step out of your bubble and see how others live and have the change to make an impact on their lives,” she added.
For more information, contact Cunningham at Ligita.Cunningham@uchealth.org or 303.752.8347.