#Seawolves manager uses nursing skills to help citizens of Ghana
Sept. 27, 2013
Stony Brook, N.Y. -
Note: This feature appears in the September 28 football gameday program.
Part of Kelly Patterson’s job as head manager of the Stony Brook football team is helping student-athletes become successful. But that’s relatively easy, given what she accomplished this past summer -- when she traveled halfway around the world to work with people who needed her even more.
As part of a program that is the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet, Patterson helped people in Ghana improve their lives.
Patterson, a health science major, wants to be a pediatric oncology nurse. Her father, Steve, Stony Brook football’s director of player development, beat oral cancer, and when Patterson saw the way nurses took care of him, it made a powerful impression. “I appreciated the way the nurses at Sloan Kettering took care of my father,” she said. “They were so caring and comforting.”
Patterson heard about Global Medical Brigades through her mother, Mary Beth, a nurse at Stony Brook Heart Center. Global Medical Brigades, which has chapters at universities throughout the country, including Stony Brook, has nine unique programs -- Architecture, Business, Dental, Environmental, Human Rights, Microfinance, Public Health, Water and Medical. Patterson, 20, chose the latter, and she knew where she wanted to make an impact.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa,” Patterson said. “My goal was to educate the local people on health.”
The process of actually getting to Ghana, a country of about 25 million, started a year ago. Through GMG, Patterson, who went through a nine-month training process, fundraised her trip, asking for money from friends and family and soliciting donors. Along with her mom -- who was the trip’s only nurse -- dentists and OB/GYNs, Patterson joined more than 30 other Stony Brook students on the trip. She and the other volunteers worked alongside translators, hostesses and tour guides, who were provided by GMG.
In Ghana, people live in clay huts with many openings, so mosquitos are an issue. Most people walk without shoes and bacteria gets in their feet. The life expectancy is just over 64 years, according to medical research.
After a day of traveling to Accra, Ghana’s capital, via London, Patterson and the team got right to work. “There’s a lot of sickness like fevers, rashes and malaria,” she said. “All things that can be prevented through care.”
Because the nearest hospital in Accra is 10 miles away, a clinic was set up in Ekumfi Eklawful, a Town Center. The students set up six stations -- triage, doctor consults, dentistry, OB/GYN, public health and pharmacy.
Medicine was pre-packed with instructions on when and how to take it.
For three days, Patterson worked in the triage unit, taking the locals’ heights and weights, blood pressure levels and symptoms, similar to a primary care physician in the United States. “I saw nine-month-old kids with 103-degree temperatures, something that would be completely unacceptable here,” Patterson said.
The doctors saw people of all ages -- from newborns to a 100-year-old woman -- at the clinic, which was open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
One problem, according to Patterson, was that the residents didn’t see that there was an issue with the water, which they drank from, bathed in and washed their clothes in. Patterson couldn’t stop them from bathing or washing their clothes in the muddy water, but she could affect how they drank it.
Patterson helped sell Life Straws, which removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of parasites and can last for two to three years. They were sold for five cedi, which is equivalent to $10. Unfortunately, her group left Ghana with more than half left.
After the 10-day trip, Patterson returned to her life in the United States. “It took a week to process our accomplishments,” she said.
She’ll continue to help others this fall, and she’ll continue to thrive in that role. The Stony Brook staff and players need her.
“As a father, I can sit back and watch my daughter accomplish what her faith tells her,” Steve Patterson said. Added head coach Chuck Priore, “I’m extremely proud of Kelly. Hearing about her helping people didn’t surprise me at all.”
And her interest in improving conditions in Ghana hasn’t waned. Is she interested in going back? She was quick to say, “I can’t wait.”