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.”
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.
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.