The Monday Memo
September 11, 2017 PITT DPT STUDENTS
Physical Therapy Abroad
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the town of Chichicastenango, Guatemala for my 6-week full-time clinical. An American physical therapist started the program there and now they have a Guatemalan PT on staff as well. Therapy services were provided free of charge as many of the patients would not be able to afford it otherwise.
One thing I really enjoyed about this clinical was the variety of patients I got to see. The program was started to treat children with disabilities, so the majority of patients were pediatric with the most common diagnoses being cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. We saw adults with neurological diagnoses such as traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and stroke. We also saw patients with orthopedic problems like back pain, meniscus injuries, arthritis, and one man with a transfemoral amputation.
Most patients were seen in the clinic, but at times we would see patients in their homes if it was difficult for them to make the trip in. Not much is handicap accessible in Guatemala, which is different from most places in the U.S. Many people have to traverse rough terrain or steep stairs just to leave their homes. Paths are often narrow and uneven, which makes using a wheelchair or walker difficult, if not impossible. This creates unique challenges for a physical therapist and requires creative thinking and problem solving.
I also had the opportunity to travel to some other areas to see patients. One was a smaller town where ASELSI has started a clinic, and the other was a rural village in the mountains where they are in the process of starting one. That village took us nine hours to get to even though it was only about 100 miles away. Due to the rough conditions of the roads we were driving only 5-10 mph for much of the trip. It was definitely eye opening and it seemed that the more rural and further from access to medical care we got, the more serious the disabilities were.
There are so many unreached children and adults living with disabilities in Guatemala that could be much more functional and have a higher quality of life if they had access to physical therapy. I am thankful I was able to have a small part in treating some of those patients.
I had been to Guatemala three times before, but only for about a week each time. This time I learned more about the culture and saw more of what daily life is like. I was able to build relationships with the staff, those I lived and ate with, and others I met along the way. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot about PT and about Guatemala. I have fallen in love with the people and country of Guatemala and I hope to return soon.
-Laura Smith, SPT