Students’ Guatemala trip reveals medical needs

Ten biomedical students and their professor spent spring break on a service learning trip where they repaired medical equipment March 8-12. This was the second trip to Guatemala for Associate Professor Cynthia Paschal, who teaches the Service Learning and Leadership course in the biomedical engineering department.

“In preparation, we researched the specific machines and instruments we would be working on during our trip,” said biomedical student Christopher Madison. This was Madison’s second Guatemalan trip. The students also studied basic, engineering-relevant Spanish before their excursion.

In Guatemala City, the students worked with professional technicians from Cuba in the neonatal intensive care facility. Under their direction, they repaired six incubators and cleared an electrosurgical unit. The students also learned about the Guatemalan education system and joined engineering students from Universidad del Valle for a mini-conference. The Vanderbilt and Guatemalan students exchanged demonstrations of their research and design projects.

The students then proceeded to Antigua where they cleaned out mineral deposits in autoclaves, ran diagnostics on patient monitors in the surgical recovery suite and worked on surgical lights in the operating suite at the National Hospital of Antigua.

At Hermano Pedro, the students toured the hospital, diagnosed problems with fiber optic light supplies and left with a list of parts to order. “The repairs were ambitious,” said Paschal, who said the group brought “lots of switches, fuses and bulbs.”

Other highlights from the trip included hiking the Pacaya volcano and meeting Hunter “Patch” Adams. Patch is a medical doctor, clown, social activist and the real-life person that Robin Williams played in the 1998 movie.

Students who traveled to Guatemala included Lina and Lora Aboulmouna, Elise Adcock-Hinojosa, Ryan Frye, Rosalynne Korman, Toby Li, Christopher Madison, Kyle Mobley, Garrett Spiegel, and Joseph Sun. Korman, Madison and Spiegel went on the spring break trip to Guatemala last year.