July 27, 2009 – If you ask friends and family, you’ll see that many people have heard of Doctors Without Borders. However, many individuals have not heard of a Canadian organization, Terre Sans Frontieres (www.terresansfrontieres.ca), that organizes other health professionals, including chiropractors, to provide care in poverty stricken countries. Our group was lucky enough to be the first at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) to go on a mission to the Dominican Republic with Terre Sans Frontieres – Chiropractors without Borders (CWB). Although there have been other chiropractic missions, what made this situation unique is that CMCC supported and helped send a collection of students (who had completed their clinical fourth year) and chiropractors (one clinician, one graduate student and one faculty member) to volunteer at two different locations in Santo Domingo. On April 18, 2009, at 4 a.m., eight interns and three clinicians from CMCC met at Pearson International Airport to embark on a journey that would impact our lives forever.
A VENTURE INTO THE UNKNOWN
As we were the first group from CMCC to participate in a CWB mission, there were a lot of unknowns for this group – there were questions regarding our transportation, our lodging, our chaperone and our sponsor that could not be completely answered prior to leaving. In addition, although the students had been in the same class for four years, they were not a part of one another’s social groups, and did not really know one another. Also, with the exception of a few students being assigned to one clinician’s pod for part of their clinical year, the students did not know the chiropractors who were being sent down to act as their clinicians – this made putting forth questions or concerns harder for them. However, all of these concerns were quickly put to rest when we arrived in Santa Domingo. Our chaperone, Miguel Callaci from Terre Sans Frontieres and Dr. Lopez, our sponsor – and his entire family – welcomed us with open arms and eased any concerns that we may have had. After this there was one certainty – this was going to be an experience we would not forget!
THE CLINICAL EXPERIENCE
Our time in the Dominican was well spent! We worked at a school in a small town called Villa Milla and a community health centre in Santo Domingo. We treated everyone who made the trip to our locations, from babies to individuals who “stopped counting their birthdays once they reached 100. ” In the end we saw more than 1,200 patients.
As within any practice, we saw patients with low back pain, neck pain, headaches and upper thoracic pain. Yet we also encountered a number of unusual cases such as the seven- or eight-year-old student who dislocated his radial head fooling around in class that morning, the patient who dislocated his humeral head 15 years prior and had never had it reduced – whose only complaint was upper back pain – and the woman who limped in with a visible fracture of her tibia, but was turned away at the hospital as the doctor told her it was not fractured. Then, there was the young fellow who was exhibiting symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and was sent to the hospital for further evaluation.
What was most apparent, from this mission, was that nothing we saw was beyond the realm of our education and training. The training at CMCC is second to none, and, therefore, our group was well equipped to treat, refer out when necessary, and provide simple rehab exercises and/or education to each patient.
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIENCE
However, the trip was not all work and that is what made it so special. Every morning, prior to going to the clinic, we all worked out, whether it was a morning run, a yoga class by the water or a circuit class. We were also lucky enough to have our translators, Jenny and Nelson, turn into tour guides at the end of the day and give us a true Dominican experience. They were able to show us the local flavour, including the city centre and all its history, great Dominican restaurants, the local bars – while teaching us the latest salsa steps – and the best buys at the local markets. In addition, Dr. Lopez and his family opened up their home to us and provided us with great hospitality, great food and fantastic company. The Lopez family told us that any time any of us wanted to come back, they would love to have us!
THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
With each passing day, everyone was more and more excited about the experience they were having. For the students, it was truly a great kick-start to their careers! It was as if they were starting their own practices. Gone were the days of getting “permission to treat” or “presenting the case” or determining which learning objective they needed to look up. In a sense, they were, now, practising chiropractors.
For all of us, students and seasoned clinicians, we had gone to a country where the people have very little understanding of chiropractic, and therefore no biases, and we were able to see first-hand the influence of our treatment. In many cases, people told us that they did not wake up with a headache today (as they had every day for the last five years) or that they had better range of motion in their neck than they had had in 12 years. The appreciation, from these patients, is something we will not forget. Many patients blessed us, wrote us notes of thanks or gave us a small token of appreciation. They wanted to let us know that we were important in their lives and that our touch made a difference.
This trip was a chance to give back, to help many and to educate others. My journey to Dominican with the Chiropractors Without Borders team was full of many great memories and moments I won't soon forget. This experience was worth every mile! Adam Armstrong, Class of 2009.
As a group, we need to thank a number of people who made this mission possible: Dr. Jean Moss (President, CMCC), Lenore Edmunds (Dean of Undergraduate Department), Amandip Gill (Assistant to the Dean), Miguel (TSF), Dr. Christian, Dr. Ramon Lopez (DR) and our families.
Should you have any questions regarding the mission please contact myself at
. If you would like information about future missions, contact TSF at www.terresansfrontieres.ca .
Not one of us could come up with just one “most memorable experience”. Therefore, we have put together some thoughts by some of the inaugural CMCC-CWB chiropractors and students, and how felt about their experiences:
This mission solidified the fact that we as chiropractors, not only have a special ability to help people with their ailments, but that we have a greater role in humanity and in bringing a new meaning to health care for people around the world. We can change someone's life, one treatment at a time. Jaclyn Durante, Class of 2008, Sports Resident
As each day passed, it became more apparent that this mission was truly going to be a life altering experience for all those involved. As a clinician, I was able to witness first-hand both the professional and personal growth of my interns and fellow clinicians. The interns were able to apply their theoretical knowledge and build upon their skill in an environment where many of the patients had never had any medical treatment. It was truly gratifying to see this group of new practitioners recognize how much they could do with both their newfound knowledge and their hands. It did not take them long to realize the effect their touch had on these patients. It was also very rewarding to see how much confidence these interns gained not only in their diagnostic abilities but also in their communication with patients, throughout the journey.
At the end of our mission, as we travelled home, I could not help but think about what our group had accomplished over the course of two weeks. Simply put we were able to see approximately 1,247 patients, but beyond that, it was the fact that we were able to touch the lives of those patients. I think I can speak for the group when I say that each member of our group, myself included, came home having a true appreciation for how fortunate we are to have what we have and also for what we can do as a health care practitioner in Ontario. Dr. Les Wiltshire, Clinician, CMCC
Travelling to the Dominican Republic with Chiropractors Without Borders changed me personally and professionally. It was an opportunity to experience another part of the world, to expose ourselves to another culture, and it revived my passion in chiropractic. Kim Pugh, Class of 2009
Access to health care is not to be taken for granted. The patients we treated were absolutely gracious and grateful for the care we provided. I will always remember the gifts, hugs, and tears we shared. Although we were not fluent in the language, the gratitude they expressed was not lost in translation.
The group of individuals who took part in the first CMCC mission were remarkable people. We all came together not knowing what to expect and it turned out better than we could have imagined. We were welcomed with open arms to the sites where we treated. Patients, although they were not able to communicate with us, walked away after their treatment with smiles. "God Bless" was a common expression, and I was grateful to have that blessing upon myself. Chiropractic can make a difference in someone's life – the hugs, the happiness, the love that was felt for the therapy we were able to provide was an amazing feeling. I was blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the first CMCC mission with hopes of many to follow. Jackie Perron, Class of 2009
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