On a (medical) mission

After Nepal earthquake, a med student and a photographer provide aid

An osteopathic medical student reflects on the work he and his brother did last summer helping earthquake victims in Nepal.

On April 25, 2015, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, taking more than 8,000 lives and leaving thousands injured and millions displaced. My brother, Harris, a photojournalist, and I scoured the Internet looking for ways we could help. We found a match with Gandhi Tulsi Ashram, a 90-year-old aid organization with a network that included a community hospital.

Our family members were anxious about our safety and pleaded with us not to go. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricted nonessential travel to Nepal. We wondered what dangers we’d encounter, but we still wanted to go.

We landed in Kathmandu on July 11, where we stayed with a host family. Each morning we awoke to the sound of a crowing rooster.

On our first day, we were crammed into a bus filled far past its capacity and zoomed between half-toppled buildings. The quality of air from the unfiltered motorbikes and cars forced us to cover our mouths with medical masks.

Unique opportunities

Our aid group arrived at Gandhi Tulsi Community Hospital to administer vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, polio and tuberculosis. As the last vaccinations were administered, a 74-year-old man entered, carried on his grandson’s back. His foot was gangrenous from complications related to diabetes, and he would need an amputation. I thought about the importance of access to health care and community education on prevention practices.

Every day offered a unique opportunity to help those in need. We visited UNICEF’s Chuchepati Camp, where more than 1,000 refugee families lived. The children grabbed our hands, eager to get piggyback rides. One boy had a badly infected ear. Unable to find a medical tent onsite, I gathered benodine, amoxicillin cream and sterile gauze to treat him. Another day, in the mountain village of Nagarkot, we bought protein-supplemented foods and B vitamins to a girl suffering from malnutrition.

Aban, our host brother and a doctor, arranged a trip to Lalitpur to meet with the organizers of Nagarik Aawaz, another aid group. At the meeting, 21 teenagers from six districts were educated in mental health counseling to help their communities cope with posttraumatic stress disorder. I told Aban about my osteopathic medical education and how we view the body as one functional unit. He was so impressed that he invited us to join him on his next medical mission.

We joined Aban in Nuwakot, three hours north of Kathmandu, which was badly affected by the earthquake. Aban had assembled an integrative team, including doctors of different specialties, Buddhist monks, teachers, classical musicians and acupuncturists. Our medical team examined and treated over 700 villagers while musicians provided the entertainment. We distributed mosquito nets, clothes, backpacks, soap and first aid kits.

Although our visit to Nepal was short, we had many unforgettable encounters and felt we made a big difference in the lives of the people we helped.

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