KSU faculty, student help with Nicaragua mammography clinic

Christina Stafford

A 40-year-old woman with 10 children traveled four hours on horseback to reach the port. Once there, she took a seven-hour boat ride to the town of Bluefields, Nicaragua. On the eastern coast of Nicaragua, there are no roads and travel is difficult. This woman was traveling to participate in a mammography clinic sponsored by Radiology Mammography International.

It was determined the 40-year-old woman who had traveled more than 11 hours would need to have a biopsy and would have to stay in Bluefields for a few days.

With the help of Richard Hirsh, a diagnostic radiologist at Summa Health System in Akron, and Margaret Haas, a Spanish lecturer at Kent State, this woman, along with many other Nicaraguan women, have access to quality health care where otherwise it wouldn’t be provided.

The recent trip to Nicaragua lasted two weeks and mammograms were taken for 200 to 300 patients. The first week mammograms were done and the radiologists determined who needed surgical evaluation when the American surgeon came the following Monday. After a week of waiting, the 40-year-old woman’s specimen came back negative and she was able to begin her long journey back to her village.

Hirsh went with donated equipment to teach and train at a medical facility. Two years ago he donated a mammography machine and an ultrasound machine. The X-ray technicians were taught and trained how to used the mammography machine and the radiologist there was already skilled with ultrasound equipment.

Hirsh began his work with breast clinics when he joined a 1989 project in India.

“That experience opened my eyes to the needs and feasibility to doing something sustainable,” Hirsh said.

Kent State provides interpreters to go along to Spanish-speaking countries to help with the teaching and training.

Haas has accompanied Hirsh to Nicaragua three times. She met him in Cuba while on a mission in 2001. After that she took students to volunteer at a breast clinic in Havana.

“I work as an interpreter. I help them communicate,” Haas said.

Hass said each mission varies in length between one and two weeks depending on its nature.

Graduate student Rebecca Woodward, who grew up in Venezuela, also went to participate in the Nicaragua breast clinic.

“I’m the third Kent State graduate student who’s been down. Peg asked me and, of course, I said ‘yes’,” Woodward said.

“It was a unique experience in every sense of the word,” Woodward said. “You get involved with the staff and the patients. It changes your perspective of the world and makes you thankful for what you have.”

In May, Hirsh plans to go to Belgrade, Serbia. In September he will be going to Macedonia and next January he has plans to go to Nairobi, Kenya.

Before the actual equipment and training takes place in these places, Hirsh visits them to make sure they would be able to sustain a clinic. Then about a year later the teaching and training begins.

“After we go, they have to do it themselves,” Hirsh said.

Hirsh said they have to have clean running water, electricity and X-ray technicians among other things.

“It’s a really great program and I feel really very honored to be a part of it,” Haas said.

Contact College of Arts & Sciences reporter Christina Stafford at [email protected].