Antigua, Eastern Caribbean

Shari Berkowitz says:  Under the leadership of Cristina Dumitrescu, from the Occupational Therapy Assistant program, we traveled to the beautiful island of Antigua during Spring Break.  The students’ travel was funded by the Mercy College Faculty Senate micro-grant for student engagement.  What follows is a collection of blog posts, written by the two undergraduate students in Communication Disorders.  First, we have student Lauren Kennish:

An Experience of a Lifetime

Experiences and the perception of those experiences, shape who you are, and who you may someday be. Thanks to the Mercy College’s Communication Disorders Program, I have had the most unbelievable month of my life; by far the best educational experiences yet.  I cannot thank God enough for my decision to go back to school. From holding a human heart, in cadaver lab, to watching a 3D heart being printed, and having the opportunity to participate in research abroad, I have gained an abundance of knowledge. I will not bore you with all the mushy details of my personal journey, but I will tell you a little more about one of these educational experiences. Specifically, the opportunity I was given to take part in research on the island of Antigua. This was one of those experiences that stays with a person for the rest of her life.

It was toward the end of February, when I received an email with the subject, “Act fast: Alternative Spring Break to Antigua with Dr. B.” Through the Mercy College Faculty Microgrant, my professor and two undergraduate students would be conducting research on the island of Antigua. As I read the email, I remember thinking, how many students would be applying for this opportunity. I filled out the application questions and emailed it in; I knew my chances of being chosen were probably not too high, but I had to try. As you could imagine, I was beyond overjoyed when I received an email, only days later, that I was chosen. I am not too sure how the selection process worked, but I am still, to this day, thankful! Words cannot truly describe the feelings I had when I read that email. I was flooded with excitement, joy, fear and ever emotion in between; I actually cried. Mid-tear I began researching the internet for everything I could find out about Antigua and its natives.

A few days later my professor, Dr. B, a classmate, and I, met to discuss the importance of this trip. We discussed the facilities we would be visiting and the types of research we would be conducting. The next few weeks were filled with prep-work and research on the facilities. The three of us were in constant communication regarding the trip and the 5th Annual Westchester Undergraduate Conference, which my classmate and I would be presenting our research findings at. Our goals were set, passports were in, and the trip was only one week away. I studied so hard for mid-terms and could not help, but have Antigua on my mind. I could not wait!

The nervousness really set in on Easter Sunday, the day before our departure. I remember saying prayers in church for our safety and the ability to make a difference in the lives of the individuals we would be visiting. Although, I did all my research and knew what was expected of me, I could not help, but worry that I would not be good enough. It was not until I sat at the terminal, and met the group, that I finally started breathing again. The Mercy College group consisted of my professor, a doctor of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP), my classmate, Professor D, who is an Occupational Therapist (OT), and two of her Occupational Therapy students. I could tell right away we were all going to get along great and do amazing things together.

Antigua caught my eye the moment we flew over it, since I was lucky enough to have the window seat, on the plane. The smell of fresh air and a warm breeze welcomed us on the island. Dr. M, of the American University of Antigua (AUA) was there to greet us and make sure our accommodations had been set. It was Mercy College’s affiliation with AUA and Dr. M, that helped establish this trip. The facilities we were to visit included: AUA, the NSA Medical, Surgical and Rehab Center, and The Care Project. We settled in, had some time to get to know each other, and it was time to get to work.

The American University of Antigua was not only beautiful, but well equipped for the field of medicine. Dr. M, an administrator and professor at AUA, gave us a tour of the facility. We were able to see the multipurpose-laboratories, a class/lecture in progress and a simulation skills-lab. AUA had a variety of interesting tool such as: realistic Manikin parts and a patient simulator; Dr. M explained that the patient simulators, could be programmed to having specific conditions, and was life-like in making noises and expressing pain. If ever I wanted to be a doctor it was during the tour of that amazing campus.

We were lucky enough to get to spend a day at the NSA Medical, Surgical and Rehab Center. The OT group spent most of their time in Antigua, at this facility. Once I walked into the building a clean smell filled my nose, and I immediately noticed the lobby was full of inviting colors. I could not help but notice and comment about the paintings throughout the hallways. The atmosphere was so friendly and the staff full of energy. I loved this facility; there were surgical rooms, offices for patient counseling/therapy and a large rehab section, filled with gym and therapy equipment. There was jazz music playing in the background throughout the workday. The facility serviced stroke patients who needed multiple forms of care; the patient’s symptoms and severity of symptoms ranged from physical to communicative disabilities. The work administered by Professor D, the OT was so informative. As she applied physical care to her patients, my classmate and I were able to observe and document her teachings. We were also able to witness her students work with patients. Dr. B, the SLP, gave insight on how OT and specific therapies conducted on an individual, we had been working with, benefited the patients use of speech-associated body parts. Dr. B was exceptional in her assessments, evaluations and treatments. I had personally never had experience with stroke patients prior to this trip. Dr. B’s work with two specific patients was not only educational and informative, but enlightening. I had always had my heart set on working with children, but this day was the first time I felt a pull toward working with adults. Since this trip I have set out to observe and expose myself to more adult therapies. This day was one of my favorites in Antigua because of the exposure to both professions working together with patients. I would definitely love to work in multidisciplinary settings, in the future; team work is crucial!

The Care Project was our first and last destination; what a place. It was a single story building located on the grounds of what once was the island’s main hospital. Besides the Hospice, which was available to all elderly natives, The Care Project, was the only other occupied building on the abandoned grounds. The building had been a pediatric ward, and was still structured as such. This was a place for individuals with disabilities. The facility was geared toward children, since most of its occupants were young. The staff serviced both residential and day-patients, whose disabilities and impairments ranged in type and severity. Some of the types of disabilities included: Hydrocephalus, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Cerebral Palsy. Communications impairments ranged from completely non-verbal to limited verbal intelligibility. There is funding provided to The Care Project through an organization known as, “Friend of the Care Project.” Money is raised in multiple ways to provide the children of The Care Project with functional toys, books, therapy enhancing tools, as well as activities; such as: painting, sensory play materials, and more. There is a room within the ward-structured building for “class-time.” Although the entire building is clean and full of beds and patients, it felt like a hospital; whereas this room did not. Once I stepped into the classroom, it was like a different world. It was full of colors, educational material, children’s artwork from previous class sessions, and a circle-time area, with mats and pillows. Child centered facilities are second nature for me and I would consider returning. To see the volunteers and staff work together to make the lives of these disabled children better and more enjoyable, was something I will never forget. To witness the smiling faces and take part in daily activities with these children, was beneficial to my studies and my life.

Throughout our time in Antigua, extensive observations, individual needs assessments, and semi-structures interviews were conducted, for qualitative data collection. The staff and volunteers were welcoming, kind and grateful for our presence, in both facilities. More collaboration is definitely needed in the area of Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, and other therapeutic fields; especially at The Care Project. Hopefully Mercy College is given future opportunities to make a difference at this facility. If so I would definitely love and appreciate being a part of that work. This was truly an experience of a lifetime!



About Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz

Shari is a speech language pathologist and assistant professor of communication disorders at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
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