A backhoe clears a road buried in a mudslide when Tropical Storm Agatha hit San Lucas, Guatemala May 29.
A University of San
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
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.