Nursing student devoted to helping in Haiti

The island country of Haiti holds a special place in the heart of Kathleen McDonnell, RN, a master’s degree student in Upstate’s College of Nursing.

Her first trip was with a medical mission group when she was just 15. Kathleen has made seven additional trips to Haiti, sometimes staying for months to help in pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.

SUNY Upstate nursing Haiti

MSN nursing student Kathleen McDonnell, RN, in Haiti

“It’s been a year since I’ve been back, and it’s killing me,” Kathleen said.

It’s just a matter of time before she returns, possibly to settle.

“I want to go back long-term and do whatever can be done,” she said. “When I went to the government hospitals, it just broke my heart. I want to get involved there and raise the level of care.”

Kathleen is studying in the College of Nursing’s RN-to-MS program to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Her connection to Haiti includes two adopted siblings from the island and fluency in Creole. After the January 2010 earthquake, she spent a week in Port-au-Prince, translating for medical personnel.

Upstate nursing student Haiti

Kathleen McDonnell, RN

Kathleen said it can be overwhelming serving on medical missions in Haiti. “I had to learn that I can’t solve everybody’s problems, that I can’t do everything,” she said. “But I can do what I can to make it better.”

Rampant poverty and disease in Haiti are chronicled in “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of the efforts of Paul Farmer, MD, to improve health care there, as well as in Peru and Russia.

Despite its problems, Haiti is “the most beautiful place with the greatest people,” Kathleen said.

After Hurricane Irene struck the Northeast this summer, Kathleen received a worried phone call — a friend who lives in Haiti, where natural disasters have taken so many lives and caused so much devastation, wanted to make sure she was OK.

“That was pretty amazing,” Kathleen said. “There’s a deeper level of relationships there, nothing superficial. They lead very purposeful lives.”

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