Physical therapy student Melanie Barker works in Mexico with an elderly patient. Courtesy photo
September 16, 2009
Twenty-three Northeastern physical therapy students concluded a goodwill care mission to Cuernavaca, Mexico, this August amid tearful gestures of gratitude from those they helped.
They also received an unprecedented award from the local governor’s office.
During a televised ceremony held on August 26, the wife of the governor of Morelos—the Mexican state that includes the city of Cuernavaca—honored physical therapy faculty members Lorna Hayward and Susan Lowe and their students for the care they gave to in-need populations during a three-week trip to Mexico.
“It was such a surprise,” Hayward says. “It was a somewhat formal presentation, which was televised to the local community, but it was full of hugs, and some tears were shed.”
In Mexico, the Northeastern students worked with children and the elderly at two government-run facilities, and with homeless youngsters at the Overcoat of God orphanage.
They helped patients develop their general conditioning, flexibility and strength, and taught exercises that improved patients’ ability to walk, sit or stand.
“There were people with amputations, stroke and dementia,” Hayward explains. “At the orphanage, some kids had developmental delays.”
After working closely with elderly patients, Alexandra Gatti, of Peabody, Mass., who is in the sixth year of Northeastern's doctor of physical therapy program, says she can’t wait to do her last clinical assignment at a nursing home.
“I personally spent a lot of time working with a man with one leg, who sat in a wheelchair all day,” Gatti says of her experience in Mexico. “He’d actually become too weak for a prosthetic leg. By the time we were done with his exercises, he had improved so much that he’s now using a walker, and strong enough for a prosthetic.”
She adds, “I feel like the work I did really made a difference.”
Students had a chance to gain valuable in-the-field training during the international mission, which Hayward has established as a regular program for her students. It included intensive Spanish language instruction, community service at three locations, and exposure to major cultural landmarks in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, says Hayward.
“The award and the trip highlighted Northeastern, Bouvé College of Health Sciences and the physical therapy department,” Hayward says. “Our kids provided a really big lift and a valuable service to the sick and needy.
“And, in return, they had experiences that deepened their education and knowledge of the world.”