James Madison University

Student Brings Medical Expertise to Africa

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: March 24, 2015

In modern society, we often get so caught up in our own lives that we forget what’s happening to others around the world. We take for granted privileges like our access to excellent medical care. For individuals living in developing nations, access to quality care isn’t always guaranteed. Looking to help improve the lives of these people, many JMU students have donated their time and energy to helping others around the world. One such example is Kory Schaeffer, who was inspired by his time in Haiti to also help the people of Ghana.

Schaeffer is a senior health sciences major and Africana studies minor, a senior volunteer and Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) for the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, and an Emergency Department (ED) Tech at the Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital (SRMH) Emergency Department. While he has always been interested in helping people, Schaeffer’s two trips to Haiti through JMU’s Alternative Spring Break program motivated him to pursue further mission trips to Africa. “After my trips to Haiti, I decided to research organizations where I could do this work on more of a long term basis,” Schaeffer explained. “I came upon an organization called ‘A Broader View’ that was able to set me up with UNiTED, or Unifying Neighbors Through Education and Development, a non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Kpando, Ghana.”

PHOTO: African hospital

While in Kpando, Schaeffer volunteered at the HardtHaven Children’s Home, an orphanage and rehab facility, took emergency medical services (EMS) calls for the Ghanaian National Ambulance Service, and worked at the St. Patrick Hospital. “It was a great experience to participate in the same jobs that I do here in the states in a developing nation,” said Schaeffer. “The hospital I worked in was constantly low on supplies, so I learned how to evaluate and diagnose patients simply off symptomatology and physical assessment alone.” Without continuous supplies or technologies like antiseptics, medications, blood tests, radiology, or even gloves, medical experts in Ghana have found other means to help their citizens. “I am so impressed with what those nurses and doctors accomplish with what they have,” Schaeffer continued. “The whole experience gave me a deeper sense of the true differences between medicine in America versus medicine in Ghana.”

One experience in particular that stood out to Schaeffer was helping a man who had previously been bound to his house for six years due to a large growth on his foot preventing him from walking. “I remember feeling lost and confused as to how to help this man as a lone American in a rural village with minimal supplies,” said Schaeffer. “I could feel the pressure and burden placed on me by this man’s faith in my ability to help him.” Not knowing what else to do, Schaeffer took a photo of the growth and asked for others’ help at St. Patrick’s Hospital. Luckily, a nurse that used to work in a dermatology clinic recognized the growth as a Buruli Ulcer; a mycobacterium that is indigenous to a few tropical areas through the world.

Knowing what the problem was, Schaeffer was able to enroll the man into the national health insurance plan and get help from a group of American dermatologists and plastic surgeons treating patients in the region. The man received a full evaluation, amputation of the infected limb, and rehabilitation after the surgery. “The man now gets around using crutches and works to make an income, which is a huge improvement from his previous state where he didn’t leave his house,” Schaeffer continued. “This really made me understand that I was able to make a tangible difference in someone's life, and that even though I felt overwhelmed at first, I was able to make a huge impact in the man’s quality of life.” 

PHOTO: African child

Schaeffer has already established plans with UNiTED to return to Ghana after graduation. “I am set to return for a six month project creating a boat ambulance system to fulfill the great need for access to healthcare on the island communities in Kpando and along the Volta River,” explained Schaeffer. “I am taking eight Harrisonburg Rescue Squad members with me, each for three week increments, to assist with varying parts of the project design and implementation.” Schaeffer will also be taking a greater role in UNiTED, helping to organize the experiences and projects for other incoming volunteers.

After returning from this project, Schaeffer plans to apply to medical schools to continue his education. While he is not completely sure what will happen after that, he has not ruled out the possibility of permanently moving to another country to practice medicine. “My experience of working in Ghana helped me gain a better sense of myself and my place in our world, as well as a greater confidence in my ability to be independent outside of my comfort zone,” Schaeffer added. “I hope that other JMU students and Americans can become more worldly and aware of our extended family on this planet.” 

If you would like to learn more about and contribute to Schaeffer’s upcoming volunteer trip to Ghana, please visit his fundraising page and donate to the campaign.

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