UB's Pre-Meds Without Borders treat people in Costa Rica, gain life perspective
(left to right) Issac Becker, an undecided major at Colorado College, Jackson Mores, a kinesiology/pre-med major at Iowa State, and Matina Douzenis, a senior biomedical sciences major. Douzenis went to Costa Rica with students from UB and other universities to shadow doctors. They treated a boy named Justin (pictured above) for scabies, an ailment he had for 10 years. Courtesy of Vanessa Alvadaro
Matina Douzenis was treating a boy in Costa Rica when she found out he had gone his whole life misdiagnosed.
What was thought to be an allergic reaction with a rash was actually scabies. The boy had the skin disease, undiagnosed, for 10 years. He was taking unnecessary antihistamines and steroids before Douzenis' correct diagnosis.
She said there is nothing more rewarding than curing the disease in a boy who otherwise would have never been treated.
Douzenis and three other UB students traveled to Costa Rica over Spring Break as part of UB's chapter of Pre-Meds Without Borders. The club aims to support future doctors by establishing partnerships with local non-profits and fostering emerging leaders in their communities.
"You start to see connections being made," said Douzenis, a senior biomedical sciences major and president of the club. "It's not just medicine, it's the social and cultural aspect that can affect the physical health of these people. You get to see what life is like elsewhere."
The group is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing "health related conversations through proactive engagement and high impact volunteer work," according to its website.
Douzen said the trip opened the eyes of participants.
This is the first year UB's Pre-Meds Without Borders has taken part in an international trip, which was open to all students, regardless of major.
"Our name indicates we should be breaking the barriers of the world not limited to the borders here at UB," Douzenis said.
The club raised the $2,000 that covered the cost of the trip through various fundraisers through the GoFundMe, a fundraising website.
The students worked with the International Service Learning (ISL) program - a national non-profit organization that provides educational opportunities for college students who want to do service in other countries. The UB students went to Costa Rica with students from other schools across the country associated with ISL.
"We wanted families of the students to feel confident where we were going through," Douzenis said. "We felt like they were the best choice for us."
The students shadowed Xiomara Rodriguez, a doctor from Costa Rica, who runs her own practice there. She volunteers her time to help students interested in becoming doctors.
"The people there didn't have much, but they work with what they have," said Taina LoSasso, a senior sociology and Spanish major who went on the trip. "We were kinda doing the same thing. Our pharmacy was things that were donated. Our clinics were made of curtains to split us up ... They don't look for anything more than what they have ... they make it work."
The students went around the villages of Tirrases and Santiago Del Monte knocking on random doors asking if anyone was sick in the house. They saw 20 patients each day, and if there were more than one sick individual in the household, they would ask who was the sickest.
The students scheduled appointments for patients, many of whom did not have insurance.They broke up in triages - clinical rooms - to alternate between getting family history, taking the patients vitals, giving information to the person recording and providing them with a physical.
"We are in this bubble I feel - especially in UB," Douzenis said. "We see certain people every day at school even [though] there's so many people ... it's a really small world."
The trip exposed some of the darker parts of country the students hadn't known about, they said. They learned how poorly the women in Costa Rica could be treated; birth control is forbidden due to the community's strict religious values.
LoSasso recalled one woman in particular who had lost a lot of her children before they were born due to abuse.
"I tried really hard not to cry," LoSasso said. "[She] seemed like such a happy person ... Why would someone do that to her?"
Many women would become pregnant multiple times, but only a couple gave birth because their husbands abused them, according to LoSasso.
The group felt the trip expanded the way they perceive the world and that the trip was a rewarding learning experience.
Pre-Meds Without Borders hopes to open their club to anyone and diversify it. There are no qualifications to join and they are always open to take suggestions into consideration.
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