A Belleville mother and daughter had an eye-opening experience working in a health clinic in the Dominican Republic last summer.
Valerie and Emily Beyersdorfer treated patients who live in the rainforest, with few possessions and little medical care. Their wood and concrete-block homes have no running water, electricity, indoor toilets or showers.
“At the end, we did a home visit to a man with incredible venous-insufficiency ulcers, and his living conditions were pretty harsh,” said Emily, 22, a senior nursing student at Creighton University in Nebraska.
“He had a concrete floor and barely any doors, and he had been using the same bandages every day. My mom dressed his wounds and gave him some clean bandages, and then we called (a city medical center), and they actually sent a doctor to the campo to follow up with him.”
“Campos” are towns in the Dominican Republic. The Beyersdorfers were stationed in La Bestia, a remote mountain village an hour and a half from the nearest city.
Despite their challenges, local residents were friendly and hospitable and shared what they had with their American visitors. Emily and another student stayed with a family of four for five weeks.
“They only had two bedrooms, and they all crammed into one so we would have our own room,” she said. “But we shared a bed. It had mosquito netting because their homes are open air. It was different for sure.”
Emily is a 2012 graduate of Althoff Catholic High School. She is following in the footsteps of her mother, a nurse in Memorial Hospital’s nursing education office and at Bel-Clair Ambulatory Surgical Center. Dad Kevin is a pediatric dentist.
Emily went to the Dominican Republic with other students in nursing, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy through Creighton’s Institute for Latin American Concern. She earned course credit, but more importantly, realized a dream.
“When I was a kid of 5 or 6, I wanted to be a missionary and go to the poorest countries and help them,” she said. “And then in high school, I did a little bit of community service, and I went on a mission trip to Honduras.”
Emily invited both her parents to go to the Dominican Republic as professional advisers, but the Beyersdorfers have three other daughters, and Kevin didn’t want both parents to be out of the country at the same time. Valerie stayed a week.
The temporary clinic operated in a school. The staff did health screenings, treated minor wounds from machete and farming accidents and performed other tasks, such as cleaning wax or bugs out of ears.
“We caught some things, such as diabetes,” Valerie said. “That’s a problem there because of all the sugar and rice they eat. Sugar cane is one of their biggest crops, and they eat a lot of rice.
“Anemia, too. We saw a fair amount of that. Their diet is lacking nutrients. They don’t eat a lot of meat because they can’t afford it. They don’t eat a lot of vegetables with iron in them.”
Valerie didn’t care for the country’s giant spiders or bathing in buckets of cold rain water, and she called the outdoor latrines “scary.” But like but like Emily, she found the people to be hard-working and generous.
After clinic hours, the Americans immersed themselves in the culture, playing dominoes or cards, dancing or just sharing coffee and fruit with neighbors. One day, they learned how to slide down mountain slopes on sleds made of bark from cocoa trees.
“The biggest challenge was the language,” said Emily, who had taken Spanish to prepare for the trip. “They don’t speak any English at all, and the Spanish they speak was a different dialect that what we learn in the United States.”
Emily chose to attend Creighton mainly because of the opportunity for nursing students to do charitable work through the Institute for Latin American Concern.
Valerie’s favorite part of the trip was watching her daughter make due without modern conveniences and show compassion to complete strangers.
“That was absolutely the best thing about the experience,” Valerie said. “I’m so proud of her. Any time she can go and help other people who are less privileged, that’s what she wants to do. She’s like our Mother Teresa.”