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On Top of the World: Former faculty member and alumnae take healing hands to Nepal

Posted: Feb. 15, 2017

Nepali school students and other patients waiting in the line
to be seen by the IMR team

One of the many Nepali patients the IMR team treated

IMR Medical Team

Marilyn Pattillo and a patient from Kathmandu

One of the nurse practitioners at a teaching session

Last December while most people were busy preparing for holiday fun with friends and family, a group of advanced practice nurses was preparing to fly halfway around the world to help with the many lingering health care concerns in Nepal following the devastating earthquake in April 2015.

Heading up the team from Austin was Marilyn Pattillo, PhD, RN, GNP, CNS, FAAN, and a former University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing faculty member. Her traveling companions were School of Nursing alumnae Stephanie Targac, MSN, FNP-C (BSN ’08, MSN ’15), Stephanie Dang, BS (’08) ACNS-BC (’12) and currently enrolled in the psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner program; Jasmine Nelson, FNP-C (’08); and Stephanie Hurd, ACNS-C (’15).

All are members of the Austin Advanced Practice Nurses (Austin APN), a local organization designed to support professional development of advance practice nurse clinicians and students. Austin APN is committed to service, whether locally, nationally or — as in this case — internationally.

“We received a lot of support from friends, family and the UT Austin School of Nursing,” Dr. Pattillo said. “And Dr. Leigh Goldstein, who oversees the School of Nursing’s skills and simulation labs, generously provided surplus suture supplies to practice wound care and two breast models. These models are very transportable and were used many times by the Nepali nurses at rural clinics to demonstrate breast self-examinations. Over 230 women attended the classes and used the breast models to practice palpating for lumps and nodules.”

The short-term trip was organized by International Medical Relief (IMR), a medical organization with NGO status based in the United States providing mobile medical clinics and sustainable health education to underserved communities in 40 countries around the world.

The team of 57 health care providers, consisting of surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, nurse practitioners, and medical and nursing students from across the U.S. and Canada, were assigned and rotated through either the surgical or medical clinics teams. The surgical team helped local surgeons with complicated gastrointestinal surgeries and wound repairs. The medical teams were driven to remote villages where they set up clinics in rural school houses, mountain tops and community centers. After seeing 200 to 300 patients a day, the team took down the clinic and travelled back to base camp.

The trip was physically and mentally challenging. Dr. Pattillo served as chief medical officer and took charge of the health of team members. She also taught classes to local nurses on physical assessment of patients in critical care units, which were videotaped for later use. Since she had been on a medical relief trip before, she mentored the care team and helped them cope in the sometimes difficult situations.

She chuckles as she recalls some of the more fraught moments when it dawned on them that they weren’t in Kansas anymore.

“Some of the team would get frustrated with the lack of medical supplies and say, ‘There’s nothing here to work with!’” Dr. Pattillo said. “I told them, ‘This is why you’re here — to be resourceful, creative. You have to think! To think of your patient. That’s why we’re all here. You’re going to be fine.’”

And they were. As it turned out, most of the population were fairly healthy. “The Nepalese are hearty people,” Dr. Pattillo said. “They mostly came to us with neck and back pain caused by work. You can definitely see progress after the earthquake, and the babies were healthy.”

Meanwhile, another part of the team traveled more than five hours over rough terrain to a remote clinic in Trisuli. There they provided care to surrounding displacement camps, assisting the local hospital physicians, pharmacists and nurses as they tended to children and adults.

“Our team was smaller than the larger whole, but our passion to offer medical assistance and attention was just as powerful,” Stephanie Dang said about serving in Trisuli. “The Nepalese and Tibetans were gracious and beautiful. They were thankful for our service and humbly welcomed us to their village. I found their generosity and open hearts to be one of the most humbling moments in my life.”

Stephanie described an especially poignant moment: “One of my fondest memories was helping an elderly woman try on reading glasses. As I watched her expression when she found a pair that allowed her to see more clearly, I knew that was the reason I flew thousands of miles. It’s not about changing the world, because that may seem impossible. But if I could change one person’s world. then it’s all worth it.”

The UT Austin contingent made an especially favorable impression on members of IMR.

“I told Marilyn over and over that the group of nurse practitioners from UT Austin were fantastic,” said Amy Jordheim, MPH, NREMT-B, and IMR team leader. “They are highly skilled, flexible and caring. I loved working with them and would welcome them back at any time. They were also very helpful to the student nurses on the trip, and I heard lots of great comments about the time they took to answer questions or provide additional skills. It was great!” she added.

All in all, Dr. Pattillo said she would encourage everyone to travel and discover the world. And being part of a service activity maximizes the experience.

“As St. Augustine said, ‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.’”

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