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Posts from the ‘School of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Category

RMU Faculty Spotlight: William A. Wentling, Nuclear Medicine Technology

wentling-112927William A. Wentling II, M.S., NMTCB, RT(R)(N)
Assistant Professor of Nuclear Medicine Technology at Robert Morris University

Prof. Wentling holds an associate degree in radiologic technology from Gannon University (1991), a B.S. in nuclear medicine technology from the State University of New York at Buffalo (1998), and an M.S. in adult education Buffalo State College (2005). He hopes to earn his Doctor of Science in Information Systems and Communications from Robert Morris University in May of 2014.

Before joining RMU as assistant professor/clinical coordinator for the university’s Nuclear Medicine Technology Program, he served as an instructor at the State University of New York and manager for Central Radiopharmaceutical Services, Inc.

He has more than 20 years of medical imaging experience in radiology and nuclear medicine.

What’s new and exciting about RMU’s Nuclear Medicine Program?
There’s a lot of exciting things happening right now. For example, recently we acquired a new gamma camera that we’re hoping to incorporate into our classes and lectures. This new technology will give the students hands-on experience with fully functioning equipment and allow them to perform testing.

What are your responsibilities within the program?
I teach radiopharmacy and radiopharmacy techniques, as well as Intro to MRI and Intro to CT. I’m also a clinical coordinator, a member of the Lambda Mu Honor Society for Nuclear Medicine, and advisor for RMU’s Nuclear Medicine Club.

What has your RMU experience been like?
I’ve been very happy since we’ve moved here from Buffalo, where we had a program that was top five in the country. I believe with what we have here that RMU has the same potential. It’s nice to see where the program is going.

How has the program changed from when you first arrived?
When I got here, it was our first graduating class. The fourth is coming up this year. Over that time the quality of students we are graduating has improved and the program has become tighter. Overall, the nuclear medicine program’s quality has really grown from what it was when I first started here.

Where do you see the Nuclear Medicine Program in 5-10 years?
I definitely think we’ll continue to expand and offer further certificates and programs. And with the regional health care climate, the faculty we have on board, and the facilities we have here, I truly believe the sky’s the limit. ~

Robert Morris University offers the only four-year nuclear medicine program in the Pittsburgh area. Designed to reflect the Institute of Medicine’s vision for the future of health care, the program emphasizes both digital technology and new imaging applications. The program’s goals are to educate students to become high quality nuclear medicine technologists; prepare them to achieve satisfactory results on the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Boards and the American Registry of Radiological Technologists; develop professionals who become future leaders in the ever-changing field of nuclear medicine; and fulfill the need for nuclear medicine technologists in the local and regional communities.

To learn more, contact Program Director Angela Macci Bires, Ed.D, MPM, CNMT, RT(N), 412-397-5410, bires@rmu.edu.

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Changing Lives Update – Lee Folk ’10

(click image for a video update on Lee)

Back in September of 2010, Robert Morris University unveiled its “Change A Life” ad campaign. Through six TV commercials, 24 radio spots, and 38 billboards across the Pittsburgh region, the campaign featured stories of how RMU changes our students’ lives, and how they change the lives of others.

One of those stories was that of David Lee Folk ’10.

Lee studied nursing at RMU, graduating with honors in 2010. That year he also received the Presidential Transformational Award, the university’s highest undergraduate honor, given annually to a graduating student who has been transformed by his or her experience at Robert Morris and has also contributed to the transformation of the university in a meaningful way. He was also the inaugural winner of RMU’s Rising Star Award, given to a graduating senior who demonstrates academic success, individuality, determination, passion and potential in his or her field of study.

In the summer of 2009, Lee traveled to Nicaragua as part of a collaboration between RMU and the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), led by University Professor Carl Ross, Ph.D., wherein students and faculty provide basic medical care to residents in the barrios of Managua.

“The people of Nicaragua touched my heart in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” he said. “To be honest, it’s still hard to look through the pictures without getting teary-eyed.” An avid and talented writer and photographer, Lee documented his experiences in a series of blog posts that portray, in searing detail, the deprivation of the Nicaraguans as well as the emotional toll that working with them sometimes exacts on the students and faculty.

One of these stories, “David and His Trumpet“, documented a Nicaraguan boy’s beloved trumpet, how it was stolen, how it was replaced thanks to Lee, and what it meant in the boy’s life.

Lee says being featured in RMU’s Change A Life campaign was a high point in his life, both personally and academically.

“It was humbling to be a visual part of such a large movement by the university to implement community service into student life,” he says. “I really enjoyed the whole process of creating the campaign, and it’s been such a thrill to see the ripple effects that it has had throughout the community.”

Following graduation, Lee spent a year at WVU’s Ruby Memorial Hospital, before joining the nursing team at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. He also started back to school at RMU this past fall, where he’s pursuing his Doctorate of Nursing Practice to become a family nurse practitioner.

Lee believes the “Changing Lives” theme connected with so many people, particularly with the Pittsburgh public, because of the kind of people who populate this area.

“We take community very seriously, and it made people proud to see a local university cultivating that spirit of goodwill in its students. That translates to strong character in the future workforce as well as stronger communities. All in all, it gives everyone a great feeling about working together for the greater good, and a campaign that can translate that message is bound to be successful.”

_____

Written by Valentine J. Brkich

Watch this behind the scenes video for more on Lee and what he’s up to today.

Robert Morris launched the Change A Life advertising campaign in September 2010. The Change A Life TV commercials won a Gold ADDY Award from the Pittsburgh Advertising Federation, which gave a Silver ADDY to the Change A Life web site. The campaign won a silver medal for advertising campaigns in the national Circle of Excellence Awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. RMU also won a Silver Medal for video PSAs and commercial spots for the Change A Life ads. The web site also won a Silver CUPPIE in the category of electronic media/web site from the College and University Public Relations Association of Pennsylvania (CUPRAP) and a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania for creative use of technology in storytelling.

A Trumpet for David

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)
“Hey, I know you.”
For nearly five years, George McClintock has greeted me the same way. Hey, I know you. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he knows me. The man knows just about everyone. After teaching French for over 30 years at Upper St. Clair High School, George is one of the most well-known, and well-liked, members of the South Hills community. He has long since retired from the school district, but not from living an active life, by any means. George is a man who has always enjoyed a challenge. So, after leaving the classroom, he went looking for one. And ended up in the emergency room.
That’s where I first met George. He was sitting outside of a patient’s room in the emergency department of St. Clair Community Hospital, watching for a high school student to come wandering into the ER. I remember being very nervous when I walked onto the floor. My tangerine scrubs set me apart rather clearly amongst the olive-clad nurses. My friend Collin Otis had talked me into this volunteer position. Since I was beginning to investigate the nursing field by that point in time, I figured some experience in the ER would be a good way to get my feet wet.

That first night, I was told to look for a white-haired man with a white mustache. He was in charge of training the volunteers, and he would be waiting for me. His name was George.

For the next six months, George showed me the ropes of the St. Clair ER. My job description was limited, but the experience of simply observing was invaluable. I stocked rooms, transported patients, and did whatever odd jobs the staff needed me to do. George and I became good friends over our dinner breaks upstairs at the snack bar. He and his wife, Obbie, attended my school play that year, and after my graduation, we continued to stay in touch. George may have been one of my oldest friends, but he could text message just as quickly as anyone my age.

Having made over fifty trips to France themselves, George and Obbie were thrilled when I told them the news that I would be going on my first international trip with Dr. Ross in July. They waited each day for The Mail from Managua to arrive via email, and then printed the stories out and took them over to Obbie’s 97-year-old mother, Olive, to read as well. It was George who jumped into action right away when he read the final chapter about David and his stolen trumpet. As I mentioned before, the man knows a lot of people. He made a few phone calls, and within a week of David’s story being written, there was a text message from George.

We have a trumpet for David.

Once we had arrived in the barrio, it was not long before David became everyone’s favorite friend. His smile was contagious around the girls, and they found themselves as quickly attached to the teenager as I was when I first met him in July. David simply has a way of making everyone feel at home. As soon as he learns your name, he goes to work finding out as much about you as he can, so that he won’t forget you. Early in the week, he made it his mission to memorize each of the girl’s names. It was quite a challenge to keep nine girls straightened out, but they were more than happy to help him remember. Kasey even drew a picture of herself in the form a stick figure with curly hair and left it with David for him to memorize. I could tell the boy loved the attention, as he would come over to me on more than one occasion, nod toward the girls, and whisper, “This is the life, my friend, this is the life!”

Everyone knew about the trumpet from the beginning, except David of course. The instrument served as my one of my carry-on bags on the flights down to Managua, and became quite a conversation piece along the way. We decided to save the big surprise until our last day in the barrio, and so the suspense built throughout the week. Back at the hotel, I had begun to receive nervous emails from friends and family back home. They were reading the stories, but not seeing a word about the trumpet. What happened? Where is David? Did you give him the trumpet? There were many eager readers out there, but all of them would have to wait.

Meanwhile, in the barrio, every conversation with David seemed to take on special significance for each of us, particularly since nearly all of them seemed to lead back to music and his passion for playing. One of the most humorous moments occurred during one of our lunch breaks. Katrina was skimming through Ashley’s iPod, looking for a song that David had mentioned earlier in the morning. When she finally found it, she jumped up to go find David. No one could keep a straight face as we listened to him singing in broken English from the back of the clinic, “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence. It was simple joy for him. The boy just loves music.

On Thursday afternoon, Lindsey boarded the van and announced that she had something to show everyone. “Just wait until you hear what I have on video!” she said excitedly, pulling out her camera. She began to play back a conversation that had occurred just moments earlier. The conversation in the van died down quickly as everyone strained to hear the faint audio. We could hear Lindsey’s voice behind the camera. “David, if you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be?” The lens was turned on David and me, standing outside the clinic. David looked at Lindsey.

“For Christmas? Hmm…” he contemplated the question for a moment. “Well, I would ask for happiness for myself and for my family.” It did not surprise me that he would answer so simply.

“Yes, but we want to know if you could have any gift, or present, for Christmas, what would you ask for?” David nodded and rethought his answer.

“Well, then I would ask for a trumpet. Mine was stolen, so I would like very much to have another one. But I know that is not possible now.” David waved again at Lindsey’s camera, and did not even think twice about the grin that was spread across her face.

“What are you writing now?”

Emily Himmel has asked me the same question half a dozen times this week. I look up from the table in the back room of the clinic. It’s Friday afternoon, and the health fair is about to begin out on the veranda. I only have a few minutes to catch up on my notes.

“Just jotting down some things,” I reply.

“What kind of things?” She snaps a picture of my hand covering up my small notebook.

“Oh, just notes for a journal entry. I don’t want to forget anything that happened this morning.” The girls are used to me scribbling notes by now. I have my notebook in my back pocket at all times, ready in case I need to record something quickly. The difficulty comes in deciphering the notes when I get back to the hotel at night.

Emily leaves me to my writing. A moment later, though, I sense someone else staring at me. I look up again. The three nursing students from UPOLI are standing opposite the table. They are watching me write. One of the girls asks for my name.

“My name? My name is Lee.” I tell them, pointing to myself.

“Lee? Lee. Lee. Lee.” they each whisper it carefully to themselves.

“Yes! Lee. Good.” I go back to writing.

“Like Bruce Lee?” one girl asks after a moment. She chuckles.

“Yes! Like Bruce Lee!” I respond. “Nice!”

“Or Robert E. Lee!” adds another.

“Yes, Robert E. Lee, too!”

“Or David Lee Roth!” The students are all laughing now.

“Very good!” These girls really know their Lees.

“How about Lee Harvey Oswald!” I add as I continue writing. The laughter suddenly dies off. I look up. The girls nod solemnly and stare down at the table. Way to kill the mood, Lee.

The silence is broken by a familiar voice. “My friend! Why do you look sad?” David sits down next to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “My friend, I have something for you. A Christmas gift.”

“A Christmas gift?” I look at David with surprise. “No you don’t!”

“My friend, it is no joke!” he says as he places a small bag in front of me. “It is for you!” I haven’t the slightest idea what the bag contains, but the mere fact that David wants to give me something at all is touching. He already has so little to call his own. I look into the bag. At the bottom lies a necklace, made of polished volcanic rock.

“David, you’re giving this to me?” I ask as I pull it from the bag. David nods.

“It is for you! Merry Christmas!” The necklace looks like many others that I have seen at the various markets across Managua, and yet, it is unique. Regardless of what it cost David, the gift is already priceless to me.

A few minutes later, Ashlee and I are introduced to the families. Our presentation goes off as planned. Afterward, I stand in the back to watch the rest of the groups, snapping pictures next to Kasey. “Did you see what David gave me?” I ask, pulling the necklace from underneath my tshirt to show her. Kasey admires the necklace, and then produces her own gift from David.

“He gave this to me, Lee.” she says. She holds out a beautiful macaroon seashell. “We talked about the beach a few days ago, and he told me all about when his family went to the ocean. He said it cost so much money to go, but he would never forget it. And he gave me this shell that he found there.” Kasey was not the only one to receive a special gift, either. David had found something small and meaningful for each of his new friends, and was quietly going about his own gift-giving as the health fair went on. He didn’t want us to leave without taking a part of him with us. None of us really knew what to say.

The health fair culminates with the ceremonial beating of the piñata, and as the children finish diving for candy, I sneak out to the van to retrieve the hidden trumpet. We have a duffel bag to hide the case in. The girls go about distracting David while I carry it to the back of the clinic. There is not much time left before we must leave. The group gathers in the back to share in the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I hand Mrs. Perozzi my camera and turn to the girls. “Is everyone ready?” I ask. A dozen heads nod yes. David is talking to one of the children over by the door.

“David!” He turns toward me. “Come over here, pal. We have some gifts for you.”

“You have something for me?” David looks at me suspiciously as he walks over to the table.

“Yes, we have a couple presents for you!” I reach into a plastic bag and pull out an old Robert Morris College jersey that Emily brought with her. David’s face lights up. He already has a few RMU tshirts, but he always loves getting more apparel.

“For me?” he asks. Right away, he takes the jersey and puts it on over the Kenny Chesney shirt that Katrina had already given him. I pull out the other things I brought with me. There are a couple framed photos from my first trip. David smiles at the photo of me and him and holds it up for the girls to see. A dozen camera flashes go off in his face. He points to the picture. “See? We look smart!” The girls laugh. His English phrasing is one of his most endearing qualities.

At last, it is time for the surprise. Up until now, I had not given much thought to what I would say before unveiling the trumpet. Now the moment is here, and I have to say something. I tell David that we are proud of him for all of the work he does in the community. I tell him that he has made each of us feel at home by being our friend. I tell him that we love him and that there are people in the United States who love him too, though they have never met him. David keeps nodding as I talk. He understands most of what I’m saying. “There are people back home who read your story, David. They know how much you loved your trumpet, and they also know that it was stolen from you. So they wanted to do something for you.”

I disappear into the adjoining kitchen area where the duffel bag is waiting. David suddenly becomes aware from the crowd watching him that something big is about to happen. I step out from behind the bookcase with the trumpet case. The miraculous appearance of the instrument sends David’s hands to his face. He turns away for a moment, then whirls back around to make sure it is not some sort of mirage. But I’m still standing there. He looks down at the case. As I open it, it appears as if he really can’t believe what he’s seeing.
“No! A trumpet?! For me?!” he cries. There’s an amazing sound in the young man’s voice. It’s the sound of childlike disbelief. The girls around me are wiping their eyes. Cameras continue to flash.

“It’s for you, David. You deserve it.” David picks up the trumpet and inspects it. It is a well-used instrument. The bell needs polishing, and the valves could use some oil. But David holds it like it’s the finest trumpet he’s ever seen. He attaches the mouthpiece and looks around shyly, as if seeking our permission to play a few notes.

“Go on! Play something!” Dr. Ross encourages him. David lifts the trumpet to his mouth and purses his lips. The first notes are a bit sour. He quickly stops and laughs.

“I need practice!” he tells us. Not to be denied, though, he fiddles with the valves for a moment, and then tries again. This time, the horn rewards David with several big, brash notes to accompany the excited applause of his audience. We don’t care if he needs practice. That’s why we brought it for him in the first place. He stops playing and hugs me.

“Now I can make the band!” he tells me. The shock is still sinking in. He collapses in a chair and stairs at the instrument in his lap. “I am just so surprised!” he laughs. “I don’t know why, but I feel like crying!”

“Oh, don’t cry!” I reply. “Nobody cries at Christmas!”

Unfortunately, the time we have been dreading cannot be put off any longer. Dr. Ross tells everyone to say their final goodbyes to the families and head toward the van. I can see our father, Alvaro, waiting patiently out on the veranda. He catches my attention and grins, waving for Ashlee and me to come over. He squeezes my arm as he tells us one more time how thankful he is for what we did. “He hopes that the Lord blesses you and that you will arrive safely home,” our translator tells us. “He wants you to come back to see them as soon as you can, but if he never sees you again…” the translation trails off. Alvaro has begun to weep. He finishes his last sentence with tears in his eyes, then turns away quickly to leave. The translator leans close to us. “He said if he never sees you again, he will look for you in heaven.”
Dr. Ross conducts one final head count in the van. David is outside, leaning against the wall, still inspecting his trumpet. He looks up at us, and through the window, notices the heartbreak on the girl’s faces. The goodbyes are beginning to sink in. Our friend opens the van door and sticks his head inside. “Hey now!” he points to the girls, shaking his finger. “Do not be sad! You must not be sad!” The girls manage to smile at him. “We will see each other again,” he says with assurance. “Now do not be sad! Okay?”
The door slides shut again, leaving David and all of our friends on the other side. The families stand along the side of the dirt road as we pull away. I turn around and look out the back window, managing to snap one last photograph just before the rising cloud hides them all away in the dust. The lens catches Alvaro, standing alone on the street corner, with his hand high in the air. He is smiling again.

For several long minutes, no one speaks. On my first trip, I remember the students being talkative and cheery as we pulled away. The mood is quite different now. There are no words for this group. The air in the van is heavy with the sound of flowing tears. This is the moment that my camera could never capture. This is the moment that is impossible to explain to your friends and family when you get home. This is the moment where your heart determines that this life is so much simpler than you once thought, and this world is so much bigger than you ever knew.

This is the moment that changes your life.
I suppose I was wrong in what I said to David. This year, everyone is crying at Christmas. During the miserable ride to UPOLI, I find myself wondering what it will be that will pick our hearts back up and start us laughing again. Katrina is sitting beside me in the back. She suddenly remembers the Christmas present that David gave to her. It is a favorite CD he owned, a collection of his favorite American songs. Just as Don Pedro drives up to the university, the CD gets passed up to the front. “David said I would enjoy this mix,” Katrina says to the group.

At first, no one recognizes the opening measures of the song. There is a big band playing, with the bright notes of a trumpet in there too, somewhere. Then the artist becomes clear as the unmistakable voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney come flowing out of the speakers. Somehow, after making all of us cry, it is David who makes us smile again. The boy was right. We should not be sad. We accomplished what we came here to do, and whether we knew it yet or not, we were leaving with more than what we brought to give. The families have been assessed and treated and trained and loved. The Nicaraguan children know some English now, and they have taught the American college students some of their Spanish, as well. There are new beds to sleep on. There are new friends to stay in contact with. There are new godsons and goddaughters to pray for. And deep within the barrio, thanks to the determination and optimism of its young musician, there is music once more.

Indeed, by the time the Beatles reach their chorus, the tears are being wiped away, and the sun is shining again. I know everything is going to be all right, because my brother David picked the perfect song.

All you need is love.

A Promise Kept

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)

David was nowhere to be found at first.
It was our first morning in Managua and we had just arrived at the barrio. The girls in the van were all excited, but no one was more eager to arrive than me. It would have been too perfect had David been sitting at the gate where I left him in July, but I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. He could be at work or at school or back at his house for all I knew. As we pulled up to the clinic, I looked out my window for him to be waiting. But David was not there. We all climbed out and exchanged greetings with the other brigadistas before we found seats in the small school desks that fill the open-air waiting area of the clinic. The UPOLI nurses who run the clinic gave us a brief description of the clinic and took us on a tour of the facility. Then it was time to take a walk through the barrio to meet our families. Our group emptied out through the gate. I was putting my camera into my bag when I heard the voice I had been waiting for.

“My friend, you have returned!” It was David, walking down the rocky lane toward me. His black hair was cut shorter, but his wide smile was just as bright. “You have come back!” he said as he embraced me.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?” I said, laughing.

“Ahh, yes, so you did. And so you have kept your promise!”

In the span of an hour, David succeeded in capturing the hearts of all the girls. They knew who David was from the stories I had told about him, but now that they had finally met him in person and become the direct recipients of his infectious charm, they were all instantly attached. By the time we were headed home from the barrio at the end of the first day, the consensus was clear. Everyone loved David.

“Lee, your dad is here.”

Kelly’s words make me stop in my tracks and spin around. My dad is here? How in the world is that possible? In a moment, I realize that Kelly is referring to the father of my Nicaraguan family. I look out the door of the office in the clinic to see Alvero standing there. He smiles and waves. A lot of people are smiling today. Dr. Ross is here.

We have just finished eating lunch on Monday afternoon. Doc will begin seeing the people in just a few minutes. Ashlee and I completed the initial assessment of our family this morning and decided that Alvero’s chest pain needed further investigation at the clinic. We are both relieved to see that our dad is here. And I am glad to know that my Dad is still in Pittsburgh. That would have been too weird.

The clinic has only been open for a few minutes, and already the desks on the porch are filling with patients. We have divided the duties of the clinic into four categories: pharmacy, triage, observation, and playing with the children. Every hour, we rotate positions. Today, Ashlee and I are assigned to the children first. I walk out onto the veranda to see how the triage process is working. Normally, our plan for the day goes down the drain within the first half hour. It’s the difficult reality of third-world healthcare. But we always work as a team, and eventually, all the patients are assessed, educated, and sent on their way with the medications they need.

Somehow, in the end, it all works.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice David sitting by the gate by himself. When we are working, he often sits patiently and simply waits for us to finish. I don’t have much to do at the moment, so I walk over. I have been looking for an opportunity to ask him about something since seeing him on Friday.

“My friend, you are not working?” he asks as I sit down beside him.

“I have a few minutes. I wanted to ask you about your trumpet.” On my first trip in July, David had taken me home to his house to show me his most prized possession, a beautiful trumpet. He played it for me and described his dreams of one day being in a band. We decided to call that band The Barrio Boys. Not long after I returned home, I received an email from David. His house was broken into and his trumpet was stolen by a neighborhood gang. He was heartbroken. David’s smile fades quickly when I ask him about it now.

“Yes, it was stolen,” he says. “I am sorry I cannot make the band now. I still want to be in a band though.”

“Who stole it from you, David? Do you know the men who stole it?” Here in the barrio, violence and theft runs rampant through the night. It is the upstanding young people like David who are often the victims.

“Yes, I know them. They came right through our door in the middle of the night. They took so much, but most of all, they took my trumpet. I am sorry, my friend.”

“You don’t need to apologize, David. It’s not your fault,” I reply, patting him on the back. “Can I ask you how you got the trumpet to begin with? Did you pay for it? Or did the university lend it to you?”

“Oh no. I pay for the trumpet. I save for a year.” He catches himself. “I’m sorry, I say in the past tense, yes? I saved for a year.”

“You saved over an entire year for it? How much was it?”

“Yes, yes. In dollars, it was one hundred and sixty dollars.” I shake my head in disbelief. I have seen the place where David lives. I know what he gets paid. It must have taken him hundreds of hours of hard work to put that money aside for such an expensive instrument. “Yes, I was going to be in a band. You remember? The Barrio Boys, yes? But now I have no trumpet, so I cannot be in the band. Now I just sit and watch them play.” My heart is breaking for him.

“Did you try going to the police? Is there anyone who could help you?” I ask next.

“I did go the police. But you know they are… how do you say?….corrupt?”

“So they did not help you?”

“No, there is no help for burglary. It happens so often. I am just so sad. It is sad to save for so long and so hard, and then all is gone in just one night.”

I shake my head as I listen to him. I am visibly upset. This eighteen-year-old boy has been the victim of so much injustice during his short life. His father left when he was young. His best friend was killed when he was twelve years old. And now his escape hatch into the world of music has been taken from him as well. But shockingly, David does not show the slightest sign of bitterness or resentment. On the contrary, he is more concerned about me than he is about himself.

“My friend, why you look so sad?” he asks with genuine concern in his voice.

“I’m just upset, David. I know how much that trumpet meant to you. You deserved to have it.” His next words to me are said with such conviction, it makes me wonder how I have ever found the nerve to complain about the petty hardships of my padded existence.

“Do not worry about it, my friend!” He smiles and puts his arm around me. “My life is good!”

It’s in this moment that I have never been so happy to fulfill a promise in my life.

It’s not fair

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU. Click here for a sample of Lee’s journal from his summer trip, including his original entry about Ruthia.)

It is a warm day in Managua. The temperature is still hovering near ninety degrees, though there is a constant breeze coming off of the lake. Hurricane Ida deposited her rains here last week and has since moved on, leaving the plants and flowers of this city revitalized in her wake. It is a vibrant color scheme for a landscape, and a welcome change from the barren hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Plaza de la Paz is slowly filling with the lengthening shadows of this late November afternoon. Don Pedro brings our van to a stop at the entrance of the memorial as we prepare for the final stops on our sightseeing tour. Dr. Ross admonishes us again to keep one sharp eye on our belongings, and another on the ground we’re walking on. You never know what you are going to find laying around here.

This place is known as the Peace Park, or the Plaza de la Paz. It was constructed as a memorial to the dead at the end of the country’s fierce civil war in 1991. Violeta Chamorro, the country’s first female president, was intent on demonstrating Nicaragua’s commitment to a peaceful future, and therefore decreed that the weapons of the revolution be buried here beneath the park. This historical site was meant to be a safe haven for families of the dead to come and mourn, and so it was, until the takeover of the Sandanistan government. Today, many are afraid to come and show their grief for fear of persecution.

As we enter the park, there is little to see but a concrete wasteland, bathed in graffiti and wreaking with the stench of fermenting garbage. The plaques thanking the United States and other countries for their role in the revolution have long since been ripped from their places of honor. And down a flight of stairs, in the tomb where despotism was meant to meet its demise, its weapons are rising from the grave. Through the years since their burial, the AK-47s that Chamorro buried have begun to emerge from the hillside of eroding concrete. Rusty gun barrels stick out in every direction, straining against the weight of their concrete prison, almost as if they are trying to answer the call of the country’s divisive dictator, Daniel Ortega.

It is an odd place to find Robert Morris nursing students. We are far from home and still adjusting to the culture and the bugs and the heat. But this moment is an essential part of the trip for all of us. In order to understand the health of these people, we must understand their government and its role in their lives. The buried machine guns of Plaza de la Paz tell us the story of an oppressed people. It gives us a sense of the weight of poverty and hopelessness, of the fight for survival and the cost of war. We walk around the plaza in silence, each of us peering closely at the guns. There is a uniformed man with a machine gun watching us, and though he has told us that he is there to stand guard for us, we are still treading softly.

After a few minutes, Dr. Ross calls us back. It’s time to go. There is one place left for us to see yet, and the sun is setting fast. We can see the abandoned cathedral from a few blocks away, with its twin bell towers rising high above the coconut trees. The principal houses of the Nicaraguan government, the Palacio Nacional and the Casa de los Pueblos, stand on its flanks, creating the central square of Managua. This is the place where I met Ruthia, the little girl who captured my heart and the hearts of my friends and family back home. On my first trip to the country in July, she came running across the square toward me and my classmates, intent on selling us her hand-made fern grasshoppers. While I watched her work, I learned that this ten-year-old girl did this to survive, and that she would likely be robbed by neighborhood boys before she could get the money home to her family. The memory of her comes to mind as I walk onto the square beneath the billboard gaze of Daniel Ortega.

We have been seeing signs of Christmas everywhere since our arrival. Here we see a dozen Nicaraguan men stringing colored lights from the towering pole in the center of the square to form a giant electric tree. It is an interesting sight to see such an approach to decorating. After all, there are no evergreens here. It is a much different holiday display from that of Gateway Center in Pittsburgh, but it brings a smile to everyone’s face to see that the Christmas season is universal. Its arrival before Thanksgiving appears to be a worldwide trend as well. There is a worker at the top of the pole, at least ten stories above the ground. He is dangling from a single cable. I am squinting up at him, trying to figure out how he got up there, when I hear Doc calling me.

“Lee! Lee!” I look over in his direction. He’s pointing across the plaza. “Look! It’s Ruthia!”

I turn around and see a little girl running toward us. I can’t believe it. It is her.

The girls in this group have all read the story of Ruthia. Some of them were even able to persuade their parents to let them come to Nicaragua because of this little girl’s story. She runs right up to us and is greeted by a dozen flashing cameras. She does not know it, but all of these people know her already. I am in disbelief. There are many people that I expected to see again on the return trip. But I never thought I would see Ruthia again. Yet here she is. With no traces of recognition on her face, she immediately begins to make me another grasshopper. I look over at Dr. Ross, shaking my head.

“I can’t believe this!” I can tell he is not as surprised.

“This is her life,” he says simply. “This is what she does.” I stand next to him and we watch the girls place their orders with Ruthia. They all want a piece of her handiwork. She is going to be making quite a living today with all of this business. But one by one, the heartache begins to sink in for each of the girls. The boys are beginning to crowd around Ruthia, and they are whispering to each other. They can see how much money she is making. Lindsey comes up beside me.

“They’re really going to take her money?” she asks painfully.

“They’re going to try.” Lindsey shakes her head and sighs.

“It’s so unfair,” she says under her breath. And it is. It is unfair that this beautiful ten-year-old is even in this square, begging for money outside the gates of a dictator. It is unfair for all of these children. Where are their mothers? Where are their fathers? They wander around this city day after day, their existence hinging on the fluctuating traffic of tourists like us. I feel a tug on my shorts. There is a two year old boy clinging to my leg, trying to find the rest of my gummy worms that I’ve been passing out to the growing crowd. I have given him half a dozen already to pacify his crying, but it only encourages him. I pick him up in my arms.

“You’re going to ruin your dinner, pal!” I say as I tickle him. The sobering realization hits me even as the words come out of Dr. Ross’ mouth.

“It is his dinner.”

Half an hour later, we are loading up into the van. Our exit is not an easy one. Every child in the area knows by now that the Americans are here, and that we all have money. Don Pedro’s job is to get all of us into the van and keep the children at bay. Dr. Ross stays outside for a moment with a handful of cordobas to distract them. He instructs the children to form a line. They push and shove each other, the smallest of them clinging to their older siblings. They do what they know to do, keep their hands outstretched until they get something. To the youngest, this is just all a happy game. They laugh and giggle and push each other to get closer.

The last coin is finally given out and the van door closes. As Don Pedro pulls away, I look out the back window. Panic grips me. The smallest girl, not more than three years old, is running behind the van, trying to catch us. She is just inches from the bumper. If Don Pedro slows down for a speed bump, she is going to be hit. She can’t see me pounding on the window.

“Don’t slow down!” I yell up to the front. “Don’t slow down!” Don Pedro accelerates. The girl stops and covers her eyes in the cloud of dust. Then she waves at me. She is still laughing. I sigh and shake my head. There are so many moments like this here; these moments of not knowing whether to smile or cry. We leave our dollars and our hearts here. We leave them here in the shadow of Managua’s Christmas tree with Ruthia and her friends and her bullies. And we drive away with the memories.

It’s not fair.

The other Benjamin

When you think of the name “Benjamin,” in the context of the American Revolution, more than likely you picture a portly, balding fellow with bifocals, standing out in a thunderstorm and flying a kite.

But I bet you didn’t you know there was also another “Benjamin” during this period who also played a big part in the founding of our country. His name was Benjamin Rush, and he’s one of the “Founding Fathers” – so to speak – of modern medicine. He was so influential in the history of medicine in our country, in fact, Robert Morris University even named a building after him.

In April 2008, RMU and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences paid tribute this physician and Patriot, when it celebrated the launch of its two new degree programs at a ceremony outside the newly renovated Benjamin Rush Center. Formerly the RMU Admissions Building, the center was renovated to house the Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology and the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, both launched in the fall of 2007.

Benjamin Rush was born in Byberry Township, near Philadelphia on Dec. 24, 1745. After attending the College of Philadelphia, Rush studied medicine and other disciplines for several years in Europe. When he returned to America in 1769, he began his own private practice and took a position as professor of chemistry at his alma mater. He eventually published the first-ever American chemistry textbook.

In 1776, Rush, a strong supporter of the Patriot cause, was a member of the provincial conference that chose delegates for the Continental Congress. He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Then, in 1777, he was named the surgeon-general of the middle department of Gen. Washington’s Continental Army. Less than a year later, however, Rush resigned from the position due to his dissatisfaction with the administration of military hospitals. He would later serve as treasurer of the U.S. Mint from 1797 to 1813.

Rush was always a popular and well-respected educator, and from 1791 to 1813, he served as professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also a vocal social activist and abolitionist, and supported science education for both men and women. In addition, he dedicated much of his time providing medical care to the poor.

When he died on April 19, 1813, Benjamin Rush was the most well-known and respected physician in the U.S.

Benjamin Franklin may have his face on the $100 bill, but Benjamin Rush has a building on the RMU campus named after him. So in the Battle of the Benjamins, I’d have to call it a tie.

— Valentine Brkich

The Plight of the Managuan

(The following was submitted by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who recently returned from Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I guess I had forgotten how good these sandwiches were. I’m eating one with my classmates out on the veranda of the UPOLI health clinic. Today is Tuesday, our second day in the barrio of Managua, Nicaragua. The sun is high above us, and I am filthy, sweaty, and tired. The dirt from this morning’s soccer match on the road is clinging to every inch of me. For all of the laughter that I had with the children during the game, my dirty clothes are a small price to pay. Right now, we have a brief respite to rehydrate and gear up for the afternoon at the clinic. The day is only half over. There is still much work to do.

Our mornings here unfold out in the barrio, with each of us spending time with the family that has been assigned to us. We work in teams, assessing patient’s health conditions and evaluating their living conditions. Our goal here is simple: to give these people the most help that we can in the time that we have. Their health issues are basic: conditions like arthritis, gastritis, urinary tract infections, asthma, malnutrition and dehydration. Though most of these ailments are relatively simple to treat, they cause far more damage than they should in the barrio due to a complete lack of simple education and basic care. By developing a personal connection to a single family, we are able to ascertain the most effective route to an improved quality of life for them. That is why we are here.

Yesterday morning, Ashley and I were introduced to the family we were assigned to on Friday. Our family consists of two grandparents, along with their granddaughter, a nineteen-year-old and her little toddler, a three-year old girl named Nicole. The place they call home is nothing more than a makeshift hut. The walls are made of scrap metal and wood planks; the floors are mud. The grandparents live in one room, while Nicole and her mother live on the other side of the wall in the same structure. There is an open area outside of their dwelling where they spend most of the day sitting under a filthy tarp, their only protection from the unrelenting sun. A clothesline made of barbed wire runs the length of the common area, and in the middle of the small yard sits an inflatable children’s pool. The pool water is a wretched shade of green, lying stagnant unless little Nicole stirs it up for fun. A washtub stands next to two giant metal barrels of water. The containers are rusty and the water inside remains exposed to the passing mosquito. The scent of rotting garbage hangs heavy in the air, stymied only by the pungent stench of human refuse that leaks out from the holes in the cardboard door of the outhouse. It is unbearably hot. Flies land constantly on anything and anyone in their search for a still surface to rest their weary wings. With no white picket fence in sight, it is indeed a far cry from my idea of a home. And yet, as difficult as this may be to understand, this family is quite proud of the place where they live. As I began to spend time with them yesterday and again this morning, I have discovered that they have just as much to be happy about as I do. Why else would they smile so brightly and laugh so often?

Now lunchtime is coming to an end. I finish jotting down some notes about this morning, and stand up to stretch my tired legs. There is a renewed sense of energy among us after we finish eating. Nurses, by nature, are happier on full stomachs. Andrea is hard at work near the entrance to the clinic, unpacking and organizing the pharmacy that she will be running out of a large suitcase. I can tell she is tired, but a little fatigue is not going to stop her from dispensing the medications that these people desperately need. The rest of the students are rallying as well, soaking their bandanas in cold water in an attempt to beat the heat. I feel a sudden wave of cool air hit me as Dr. Ross opens the door of the air-conditioned Pepto Room. I have dubbed this small examination room the Pepto Room because of the Pepto-Bismol shade of pink that covers the walls. The room is not much larger than a walk-in closet, outfitted with a primitive examination table, a small desk, a sink, and two stools. This is where Dr. Ross will be seeing his patients throughout the afternoon.

Before we open the gate to the villagers, Dr. Ross and Andrea want to take a walk down the path to visit a family that Andrea had taken care of the previous year. They ask me and Anne if we’d like to join them. The family lives nearby in one of the comparatively spacious dwellings of the barrio. They are excited to see us coming. Anne and I are introduced by Dr. Ross at the entrance, and we are welcomed inside. Chickens dance out of our way as we move deeper into the dank alleyway. It is a joyful moment for Andrea, and a relief for her to see the family’s children alive and well and standing taller on a year’s worth of growth. The people of the barrio may not have much, but they do have each other. It’s an encouraging sight.

Ten minutes later, we say our goodbyes and head back down the path. As we near the clinic, it is clear that something has happened while we were away. Leigh, our graduate student with ER experience, comes running to meet us. “Dr. Ross! We need you in the clinic right now!” In a flash, we are all racing up the street to the clinic. Leigh fills us in as we go. A man had been dropped off just a few minutes earlier. His wife was with him, and she explained through our translator that her husband had advanced cancer and he was having seizures. Leigh got the man into a wheelchair and wheeled him straight into the Pepto Room. He was febrile, dehydrated, and only semi-conscious moments ago. His blood pressure is dangerously low.

As we crowd into the room, the man seems to have come around a bit. Dr. Ross immediately assesses the situation, retakes the vitals, and then turns to the man’s wife. “Can you tell us about your husband’s cancer?” he asks. The woman explains through the translator that her husband has penile cancer, and he was operated on several months ago. She produces a photo of her husband lying in a hospital bed. His sheet is pulled back, exposing a massive lesion in the left inguinal area. The penis had to be removed as a result of this aggressive form of cancer. Dr. Ross listens carefully to the woman and then turns toward her husband. “I will need to take a look at the site of the cancer,” he tells the man. The man nods weakly. The room is tiny, but more and more people keep filing in to offer help. I do a silent head count. Eight people now stand in the tiny office: Dr. Ross, Leigh, the patient and his wife, the translator, another nurse practitioner, another nursing student, and me. It is a good thing that the air conditioner works. I am standing in the corner, simply observing, and wondering what the man’s name is.

Dr. Ross gently loosens the man’s belt and opens the pants to expose the cancer. Everyone in the room takes a breath. The penis has been cut away, leaving only a small hole through which he can urinate. And the open wound to the left looks terrible. The hole bores deep into the man’s body, making it a prime site for infectious agents to enter the bloodstream. Dr. Ross begins to carefully irrigate the site with betadine swabs, then listens to the man’s lungs. The expression on his face tells me that the prognosis is not going to be good. He looks up at me. “He’s most likely septic by now. If he develops pneumonia, his body won’t be able to fight the infection.” He turns to the translator, who relays the findings to the wife. She has shrunken back into the corner with her face in her hands. “Tell her that he needs to get to a hospital now. We can’t treat this here.”

“What is his name?” I ask softly. No one hears me over the hum of the air conditioner. The wife has received the message, and is now quietly sobbing. Marie, the other nurse practitioner, pulls her into her arms. The translator taps Dr. Ross, who has gone back to cleaning the gaping wound.

“She says that she does not have the money for a cab to get to the hospital.”

“Tell her not to worry. We will pay for the taxi.” But the woman is still crying, telling us more of her husband’s story. He has been sick for so long. The burden has fallen completely on her. She is exhausted and doesn’t know what to do. The hospital sent him home before. Why would they do anything different now? Dr. Ross nods sympathetically.

I tap Michelle, another student, on the shoulder. “Did we get his name?” I whisper. She hands me the slip of paper with his vitals written on it. His name is Eddie.

There is a pause in activity as Dr. Ross decides what to do. There is little we can do for him here other than keep him in the air conditioning. If we send him to the hospital, they will not do much more than give him IV fluids. Leigh speaks up. “Why don’t we ask him what he wants to do?” We all nod. Dr. Ross bends down on a knee with Marsala, our translator.

“Ask him if he would rather go to the hospital or back to his home.” Marsala knows that either decision is a likely death sentence for Eddie. And she has to be the one to say it to him in Spanish. She is fighting back tears as she asks him. At first, there is no response. Then Eddie mumbles something. Marsala can’t hear. Dr. Ross looks to me in the corner of the crowded room. “Turn off the air conditioner, Lee. We can’t hear him.” I push the button. The room falls silent. The temperature instantly starts to rise. Eddie speaks again, and Marsala presses her ear close to him. She looks back at Dr. Ross.

“He’d rather go home and wait until tomorrow.” Dr. Ross asks one of us to take the wife out and call for the cab. Discussion breaks out again. The medical minds in the group are afraid that is too risky to send him home septic. If we send him out now, the hospital can begin IV fluids and triple antibiotic therapy to ward off the pneumonia. There is a chance that we can give him more time. But we need to act now. Every minute counts.

The temperature in the room is now nearly unbearable. Too many people in too small of a space. Marsala interrupts the discussion. “Dr. Ross, can I tell you what I really think he is saying? I think he really believes that if he waits until the morning, then things might be better. I really think he would rather go home.” Dr. Ross is looking at Eddie. Then he turns away to face the wall. His shoulders are shaking. He is crying. I watch him take a deep breath and turn back around. He looks at me with tears in his eyes.

“They know what will happen at the hospital. They know that the hospital won’t do anything.” At that moment, the door opens. It is the wife, and she has brought along their daughter. She is nineteen years old, and nine months pregnant. Eddie’s grandchild is due to arrive in less than two weeks. She is here to convince her dad to go to the hospital.

“Please, Dad. Come to the hospital. They can help you,” she tells him. The door opens again. The cab is waiting out front. Someone needs to decide. It is Eddie who finally relents. He will go to the hospital. Dr. Ross begins dispensing orders to the crew. The room empties quickly. As Eddie is wheeled out, he takes my hand and says something to me softly in Spanish. I look to the translator. “He said, ‘God bless you.’” Then he is gone.

The Pepto Room is empty now. I am sitting alone on the exam table. The only sound is the steady hum of the air conditioner. And now it is my turn to cry.

In this moment, the reality of death is so disturbingly clear. Sickness is a part of life for these people. Suffering is their daily burden. They know there is no help for things like this. They know that death can take them at any moment, from something as simple as an infected papercut. This is the harsh life of the barrio. This is the plight of the Managuan.

A few minutes pass by. I sit alone with my thoughts and my notebook. The door opens. It is Dr. Ross. We don’t speak to each other for a moment. We can only cry. He carries a burden for these people, and it breaks his heart to face a problem that he can’t solve. “How can he say ‘God bless you’ to me? How do they do that?” he whispers. I put my arm on his shoulder.

“You did everything you could Dr. Ross.” He nods. This was just our first patient of the day. The waiting room is now jammed with patients to be seen. Dr. Ross tries to fill his water bottle with trembling hands. I reach in to help steady it. He takes a long drink, and catches his breath. This is what we do as nurses. Care first, cry later, then take a deep breath and keep moving forward. We have to move forward. These people need us.

Dr. Ross puts his hand on the doorknob of the Pepto Room. He takes one last deep breath, looks at me, and nods. He opens the door. “Estoy listo!” he calls out to the sick. I am ready.