Upstate DNP student finds gratitude on Ghana medical mission

SUNY Upstate

Upstate's Brandy Baillargeon, FPMHNP, treats a woman in a village in Ghana during a medical mission trip with Americans Serving Abroad.

After her induction into the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society and her graduation in May from Upstate’s Nurse Practitioner master’s program, Brandy Baillargeon didn’t take a vacation.

She joined an eight-day medical mission to Ghana organized by Upstate nurse Lauri Rupracht through Americans Serving Abroad.

“There were so many people who were so grateful,” Brandy said.  “What we take for granted, they need so much over there. The little things they needed — simple sunglasses, reading glasses, books, anything . . .”

Brandy, a Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner continuing in Upstate’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, estimated that the medical team saw 1,000 patients in several different villages. (The 14-member group included three educators who collaborated with health care providers and worked with teachers and students).

“This was my first medical mission,” she said. “It definitely was an eye-opener.”

Patients included children with umbilical hernias and adults with a variety of conditions, some needing emergency treatment and surgery. Some villages were an hour or two from clinics, which weren’t always well equipped.

“We gave them everything we could,” Brandy said. “Blood pressure medicine, antibiotics, ibuprofen. There was one stethoscope for the whole clinic. I gave them my stethoscope, my otoscope and blood pressure cuff.”

SUNY Upstate

Brandy Baillargeon with Amina.

Two young patients in particular remained in Brandy’s thoughts after she returned to her home in the North Country – an 8-year-old girl named Amina and a baby girl with bilateral clubfeet.

“Amina was one of the many children that were being seen or patiently waiting their turn,” Brandy said. “Some of the children merely wanted to be examined, cared for or given attention that they greatly deserved. We tried to see as many children as we could, and even the primarily healthy ones we were sure to give vitamins, shoes and clothing to.”

The baby girl’s mother had been told nothing could be done about her daughter’s feet. But Brandy fashioned braces for her, using tongue depressors, padding, bandages and high-top sneakers to try to straighten her feet. Brandy showed the mother some exercises, and made arrangements so that the girl could possibly have surgery at 7 months at University Hospital of Ghana — several hours away from her village.

There were other rewarding experiences, including starting a Scrabble program in one village, and returning to a couple of villages to check on patients they had seen earlier in the week.

“We saw people who were completely better or had improved so much,” Brandy said. “It was really rewarding.”

The trip wasn’t without its stresses.

SUNY Upstate

Brandy Baillargeon with a baby girl in Ghana. Brandy used tongue depressors, padding and sneakers to try to straighten the girl's feet.

In a couple of villages, hundreds of people needing treatment knew the medical team was due to arrive and gathered ahead of time. To control the crowd, village leaders set up a makeshift fence out of bicycles, and distributed bracelets to those wanting to be seen.

“We started with women and children,” Brandy said. “There were still a lot of people waiting when we had to leave. That was the hardest thing. We started at 6 a.m. and had to leave at 6 p.m., before dark, because the roads are dangerous because of hijackers. A couple of nights we had to have a police escort.”

For the most part, Brandy said, people in Ghana were very welcoming and happy to see them. “They’re accepting and caring people,” she said.

And grateful, as Brandy found out.

Her son had asked her to bring back a soccer ball from her trip, so she took a new ball with her to exchange.

“They had one and it was all beat up,” she said. “We traded a brand new one for it, and the kids there all signed it.”

Before setting up in each village, the visitors sought and received permission from the chief. One chief’s eyesight wasn’t good, so Brandy gave him a pair of prescription reading glasses. He was so grateful, he gave her a goat.

It was almost the perfect gift, even though Brandy had to set it free after the group left that village.

“We have goats here,” she said of her home near Alexandria Bay. “We bought 10 acres. Ultimately I’d like to establish a recreational rehabilitation practice, so kids can come up and use farm therapeutically. “

In the meantime, Brandy is working at a community clinic in Jefferson County and working toward her DNP degree at Upstate. (During the trip, she surveyed 100 patients for her DNP research on mental health in underserved populations.)

The future might hold another trip to Ghana.

“I’d love to go back,” she said.

SUNY Upstate

Residents of a Ghana village wait to be seen by health care providers from Americans Serving Abroad.


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Undergraduate research fellows spend summer at Upstate

SUNY Upstate College of Graduate Studies

Students in the College of Graduate Studies' Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program visit Upstate's DNA sequencing facility and learn from supervisor Vicki Lyle.

Ten college students interested in the biomedical sciences are spending the summer at Upstate through the College of Graduate Studies’ Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

The 10-week SURF program exposes college seniors to biomedical research and gives them the opportunity to formulate a proposal, carry out research under a faculty mentor, write a research paper and give an oral presentation on their projects.

“I was looking for another stepping stone,” said SURF student Clara Richardson, who graduated in three years from SUNY Cobleskill. “I did a lot of plant research at Cobleskill, but not a lot of biomedical research.”

Clara is working in the lab of Mira Krendel, PhD, associate professor of Cell & Developmental Biology.

“It’s a very inviting environment in the lab,” Clara said. “Everyone really wants us to learn and they’re happy to teach us. They’re very flexible, too.”

Max Cravener, a rising senior majoring in biology at Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania, is working in the lab of Gary Winslow, PhD, professor of Microbiology & Immunology.

Max said he was looking into possible summer internships when his academic advisor told him he’d be a good fit for the SURF program. “I’m interested in immunology and microbiology, and here I get to branch out,” Max said.

In the Winslow lab, Max is working on a project involving host immune responses to bacterial pathogens.

“One of the first conversations I had with (Prof. Winslow) was an honest one about how I’m not going to make any major breakthroughs in eight weeks,” Max said. “So he gave me a project that’s a subset of one they’re working on, and I’m learning a lot.”

He is looking ahead to graduate school, and then a career teaching in higher education.

Clara wants to work in the private sector for a couple of years to build on the skills she’s learning in the SURF program.

“This is a great opportunity for hands-on experience you don’t get at the undergraduate level,” she said.

Each SURF student receives a $3,000 stipend and housing. This summer’s program started June 6 and continues through Aug. 12. The program is competitive, with about 200 students applying each year.

The 2016 SURF students:

Maia Baskerville, Wells College; Lee Bauter, Le Moyne College; Max Cravener, Lock Haven University; Siddharta Dhakal, University of Louisiana at Monroe; Michael Dolan, Binghamton University; Rhiannon Gabriel-Jones, Bard College at Simon; Shelby Helwig, Lock Haven University; Alana MacDonald, Binghamton University; Elsie Odhiambo, Smith College; Clara Richardson, SUNY Cobleskill.

Upstate faculty serving as mentors are: Wenyi Feng (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology); Heidi Hehnly and Mira Krendel (Cell & Developmental Biology); Gary Chan, William Kerr, Gary Winslow (Microbiology & Immunology); Frank Middleton and Yunlei Yang (Neuroscience and Physiology); William Brunken (Ophthalmology); Juntao Luo (Pharmacology).

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Student’s RMED experience in Plattsburgh: ‘She’s one of us’

SUNY Upstate

Rural Medical Scholar Simone Arvisais-Anhalt, right, with her sister, Monique, who is also a medical student at Upstate. Photo by Josephine Lee.

There have been many highlights for Upstate medical student Simone Arvisais-Anhalt, but at the top is how her Rural Medicine preceptor introduced her to his patients in Plattsburgh.

“She’s one of us.”

Simone, who’s from Plattsburgh in northern New York, served her Rural Medicine clerkships in her hometown for four months of the third year of medical school.

Simone’s preceptor, Steven Heintz, MD, is a Plattsburgh native and “a great role model,” she said.

Simone recalled one patient with a developmental disability who came in with his mother and a care provider. Dr. Heintz learned that the boy liked pigs, and told the patient how great he thought that was. He even wrote it in his patient note to remember future encounters.

“It’s that attention to detail,” Simone said. That, and more than a touch of Plattsburgh pride. “He’d introduce me to patients and say, ‘She’s one of us!’” Because of that, patients were very receptive to her role as a medical student in training.

Simone said her experience in the Rural Medicine program (RMED) reflected the personal and compassionate nature of small-town and rural medicine. If a resident became ill or was injured, the community mobilized, she said.

The providers know their patients, and often have known their families for decades. With that sense of community, Simone said, “You build on the highs and go through the lows.”

In RMED, students rotate through different specialties in the same town and often see the same patients on follow-up visits, including surgery. “It’s a real ‘continuity of care’ scenario,” Simone said.

And, she said, in rural Northern New York there can be complicated social factors among patients – distance to providers, harsh weather, transportation and the physically demanding responsibilities of working on farms.

“You need to be understanding of people’s circumstances, and incorporate that into your decision-making,” Simone said.

SUNY Upstate

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena presents the President's Award at Student Research Day to Simone Arvisais-Anhalt. Photo by Richard Whelsky.

Simone, who won the inaugural President’s Award at Student Research Day for her project on studying patients’ barriers to accessing health care in Syracuse, also wanted to do outreach in her hometown.

She arranged to give a lecture at Plattsburgh High School (her alma mater) on mental health. She reflected on her experiences with people she’s met who have bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia. She personalized the statistics, pointing out that someone can have a mental health issue and still succeed in life.

“Lecturing was tough,” Simone said. “I had never taught before, but I wanted to challenge myself. I have a lot of respect for teachers. It was rewarding. Students came up afterward to share personal experiences and shake my hand.”

Simone said prospective medical students who are interested in working in a small town or rural community should look into Upstate’s RMED program.

“If you’re considering RMED, you have to be willing to accept more responsibility, because you do a lot. Since you’re the only medical student in a hospital, the volume is high, which means you have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “The ED had my phone number and called me whenever big lacerations came in. I did so much suturing in the ED, the novelty almost wore off. Providers keep their eye out for you, and want to show you stuff even when you aren’t rotating with them. They think about you.”


Arvisais-Anhalt is a blend of her parents’ names. Mom Joanne Arvisais is French Canadian, and dad Daniel Anhalt is American. She’s a potter, and he’s an Emergency Medicine physician at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

Simone and her three siblings – including younger sister Monique, also a medical student at Upstate and entering her second year – grew up speaking French and English. Her father is from Southern California, her mom from Quebec.

Simone studied Persian in high school, spent a summer in Egypt (she’s fascinated by the Middle East), continued studying Persian in college and graduated from McGill University in Montreal.

Simone is engaged to Stephen Li, an MD/PhD student at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

She plans to specialize in pathology, reflecting her interests in public health and epidemiology. “I’ve realized that I don’t like a lot of uncertainty and tend to be very detail oriented. I basically stumbled upon my interest in pathology and think it’s a great fit. Communication and teamwork are important. The field is in a really exciting time intersecting with technology that I think can be expanded to population based research.”

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College undergraduates ‘Try on a White Coat’ at Upstate


Kyle Peterson, far right, speaks to fellow members of the "Try on a White Coat" program at Upstate. Twenty-four undergraduates from colleges throughout New York State spent this week on campus, learning about a variety of medical careers from Upstate students, faculty and staff. Photos by Jim McKeever.

Two dozen undergraduates from throughout New York State spent this week at Upstate in the “Try on a White Coat” program for college students interested in health care professions.

The program is in its second year, and is hosted by Upstate’s CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program). CSTEP is a New York State Department of Education initiative that helps underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students prepare for careers in the scientific, technical and health-related fields.

The visiting students have been immersed in presentations, hands-on demonstrations and activities, panel discussions and social outings.

Thursday afternoon, the students gathered for one of their scheduled reflections to talk about their experience on campus and the impact it may have on their academic paths.

Ayenoumou Barry, a rising sophomore at the University at Buffalo, said she enjoyed being exposed to a variety of health care fields like medical imaging and physical therapy. “But this has reinforced my interest in pediatrics,” she said. “Every time a doctor mentioned pediatrics, my eyes opened and my ears perked up. It made me want to know more.”

Kyle Peterson, a rising sophomore at the Sage Colleges in Albany, expressed his gratitude to CSTEP for the “Try on a White Coat” program, and said this group has formed a lasting bond.

“I’ve really enjoyed making connections,” said Kyle, who wants to become a Physician Assistant. “We may be apart for years, but somewhere down the road we’ll be together and our relationship will still stand.”

That comment drew applause from the entire group.

Other reflections from the students about their experiences during the week:

“We’re all sharing our views. It makes me feel happy. This is what I want to do.”

“It reinforced the idea that we can do it.”

“When Dr. (Lawrence) Chin told us we’re going to be in charge of other people’s lives, the responsibility of that … I was frozen. But it makes me want to pursue this.”

“I liked the medical student panel. Hearing how much they’ve gone through encouraged me. It gave me peace of mind. I’ll be OK.”

“We have the power to change the way we see a community, that we can help our society.”

“This increased my confidence. We can make it, even though we have all these roadblocks.”

“The diversity discussion opened me up to everyone’s struggle. It’s important to have hope and to believe in those goals. And I’ll be there to help anyone who needs that hope.”


Ayenoumou Barry, a University at Buffalo sophomore-to-be, speaks to her "Try On a White Coat" classmates during a reflection session in the Setnor Academic Building Thursday. Two dozen undergraduates have been on campus this week for the program, hosted by Upstate's CSTEP program.


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Student’s hands-on pursuits: medical biotechnology, bagpipes

SUNY Upstate

Michael Miller, a student in Upstate's Medical Biotechnology program, in a laboratory at the Neuroscience Research Building. Photo by Robert Mescavage.

On Upstate’s campus, most people have no clue Michael Miller plays the bagpipes — much less that he’s good enough to compete internationally.

“You can’t really practice in Geneva Tower, and it doesn’t come up in conversation,” said Michael, a student in the Medical Biotechnology program. “I played at my high school Baccalaureate Mass and people I knew for six years, through middle school and high school, didn’t know.”

Given the volume of the music, bagpipers need a remote place to practice. Michael favors St. Mary’s Cemetery in DeWitt, where he practices twice a week in the warmer months, and pretty much every day during competition season.

“Runners and bikers will frequently stop and listen,” said Michael, who played at the College of Health Professions commencement May 22. He led flag bearers Lou DeMarco and Andrew Brown (CHP students and Marine Corps veterans) in the processional. Their entrance is at the 7:50 mark.

“I played ‘Scotland the Brave’ and the first few notes of ‘Wings,’” Michael said. “It went flawlessly, which is unusual for a ceremony.”

SUNY Upstate Medical Biotechnology

Michael Miller performing on the bagpipes at the Great American Irish Festival. Provided photo.

Michael is from Lake Luzerne, near Glens Falls, and attended nearby SUNY Adirondack for two years before coming to Upstate. When he took a microbiology course with a great professor at Adirondack, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the laboratory.

“It’s so hands-on, and you have the ability to see what you’re working so hard for come to fruition,” he said. “It’s not instantaneous, but you build on it. Even if something doesn’t work, you pass it on.”

Michael will earn his bachelor’s degree in medical biotechnology from Upstate in 2017 and is looking ahead to graduate school. He wants to work in infectious disease control and help develop new vaccines.

As disparate as Michael’s two passions may seem, there are indeed similarities between working in a lab and playing the bagpipes. Both have a steep learning curve and require fine motor skills, dexterity and teamwork.

“You have to play and work well with others,” Michael said.

He started playing the bagpipes at age 10 on a “chanter,” similar to a recorder. His dad, Michael Miller Sr., had always been intrigued by the bagpipes and began taking lessons when Michael Jr. was a toddler.

When Michael was 11, he got his first set of pipes. He’s been playing and competing ever since, including seven times in the world championships in Scotland. The first few years he was with the Albany-area Oran Mor band, which has since been absorbed by the Boston-based Stuart Highlanders pipe band.

The Stuart Highlanders are one of only two Grade 1 bands in the United States – pipe bands are ranked from 5 (the lowest) to 1. Michael is an instructor for his father’s bagpipe band, the Galloway Gaelic.

Michael has also performed at the Scottish Games in Syracuse and the Great American Irish Festival outside Utica, which is coming up at the end of July. “It’s one of our favorite competitions,” he said.

Five things about Michael Miller and bagpipes

* Michael has participated in military burial services through the Veteran Recovery Program, which locates and inters the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans throughout New York. The Veteran Recovery Program contacts funeral homes and takes custody of the remains, usually of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans, who are then given a full military burial service. “I’ve even been present for a World War I veteran,” Michael said.

* His parents, Patty and Michael Sr., own funeral homes in Lake Luzerne and Indian Lake. Older sister Alyssa is an elementary school teacher; younger sister Emily graduated from SUNY Adirondack and will start in the fall at SUNY Cobleskill.

* Playing the bagpipes requires good lung capacity and aerobic conditioning, efficient breathing technique and strong muscles around the mouth to keep an airtight seal around the mouthpiece. Playing on grass is preferable to playing on a concrete surface, as there is more moisture in the air with grassy areas compared to concrete. Having a relatively high amount of humidity in the air allows the pipes to have a more rich and full tone. Scotland can be tricky – weather conditions can change quickly from misty rain to hot sun, creating a challenge in tuning.

* A set of pipes can cost $1,500 and up, and there’s also the cost of the outfit of kilt, hat, tartan and socks – all 100 percent wool, Michael said.

* Michael played the bagpipes at three consecutive commencements for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy when he was a high school student at Saratoga Central Catholic in Saratoga Springs.

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