Jul 282009
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

When Juliette Hart arrived in Costa Rica with 30 other CSU students to alleviate dire veterinary needs, she didn’t know how far her creativity would be stretched.

But while she was monitoring a neutered a dog, she noticed the area of incision was inflamed and had to reduce the swelling. There was no ice, so she had to think quickly to find an alternative.

“. I remembered that we had a few beers in the fridge, so we used them to ice the inflamed area — and it worked,” she said.

This is only one of the many obstacles these students were faced with on a daily basis; however, they arrived in San Isidro knowing that they would be challenged.

On the 2009 volunteer trip to San Isidro, Costa Rica, 30 veterinary students accompanied by certified veterinarians and volunteer citizens from the Fort Collins area gave an underprivileged community a gift, both educational and medical.

Spaying, neutering, vaccinating rabies and doing general health check-ups was the majority of daily activity, but bonding with the pet owners also became a priority.

In exchange for dishes of local foods, the vets and vet students taught the local people how to properly care for their animals.

“It wasn’t just a physical impact but also an emotional gift and a learning experience,” said Pedro Boscan, the organizer for the trip.

Boscan, a CSU assistant professor in anesthesiology, said the effort shows the CSU veterinary community’s commitment to community outreach in countries that have lower incomes and less means to care for their animals.

He said he and his planning committee spent months preparing for the trip.

The clinic operated from a limited budget — $5,000 from fundraising — and the trip volunteers paid their own way, staying in people’s homes and hotels in the community.

Other donations included leashes and collars from hospital patrons and time from two Veterinary Teaching Hospital employees, Dave Czerniak and Patti Clark, to sterilize equipment in advance.

Costa Rican officials gave special consent for the team to bring pre-sterilized surgical equipment through airport security.

Veterinarians and volunteers performed the operations on top of coolers and used a bathroom outside the school gym, where the clinic was located, as an environment to sterilize tools between operations.

The Costa Rican government also donated 1,000 rabies vaccinations for the team to use to prevent animal-to-human transfer of the disease.

This trip was the first of its kind for CSU, and before they arrived, the students and veterinarians were not sure what to expect because of the extreme lack of supplies.

“We worked as a team mostly so (the students) got to have an input, and they learned how to cut corners when they had to and still have successful experiences,” Boscan said.

Suzie Friedman, a veterinary graduate student, said resources were so scarce that the team had to turn basic household items into medical tools.

“The supplies were so limited, and at one point I was in the recovery room and the animals were really cold, so I had to brew hot water in the coffee pot and fill latex gloves to use in place of warming blankets,” Friedman said.

While trip leaders and volunteers said they are trying to make the trip an annual event through an organization committed to bringing veterinary services to underserved countries, the current economic downturn may hinder further trips.

Nao Okunaka, the president of the Veterinary International Club and CSU veterinary graduate student, said next year’s trip poses a large number of logistical hurdles, including calibrating the number of certain pieces of equipment.

“Catheters in particular you should place in every animal, but even the first day we were only placing them in females,” Okunaka said.

Trip leaders are looking to the International Veterinarians Dedicated to Animal Health, or VIDAS, for funding for next year’s trip, but say that won’t likely be a reality because of financial cutbacks in the organization.

Though the future of the trip is uncertain, volunteers say it is an important learning experience not only for them, but for the San Isidro community as well.

“The communities want this to happen but they don’t have the resources —— they want to be educated,” said Cecily Lyon, a veterinary graduate student.

Staff writer Kirsten Silveira can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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