Bellin College nursing students care for the poor in Haiti

Posted at 10:16 AM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 11:16:58-04
In the mountains and valleys of Haiti, you'll find poor villagers in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care.
"It's heartbreaking," Katie Gehl explains. "Once you get there, it's like wow, this is way worse than I ever thought life could get honestly."
This past April, Gehl and some of her Bellin College classmates who are studying to be nurses and radiologic technologists say they basically took a vow of poverty to help thousands of people in need. The group slept in bug huts and had to shower with little water.
"You're living very simply. You're only doing it for one week or two weeks. They're doing it their whole life," says Kathie DeMuth, Assistant Professor of Nursing.
DeMuth was instrumental in creating a new partnership between Bellin College and Friends of Haiti. The non-profit organization sets up free medical clinics in impoverished areas of the country. It gives students a hands-on opportunity to practice what they've learned in the classroom.
"I helped with vital signs, you know getting their blood pressure and heart rate," Gehl explains.
They even assisted doctors as they delivered  babies and performed surgeries to correct painful conditions that many patients suffered with for years.
"In a world where they have nothing, they're always so happy and so grateful and thankful," says DeMuth.
Nursing student Jennifer Dewane adds, "It makes me take a step back and look at what we do have and appreciate what we do have." 
While the trip helped the students grow their skill set, it also grew their passion for nursing.
"It feels really good. I feel accomplished but wanting to give more," says senior Mackenzie Minten.
While many say they'll return to Haiti one day, now they're focused on using what they learned in that country to provide better care here in Northeast Wisconsin.
"We work with a large number of people living in poverty here in our own area, that I think it gives you a greater perspective and appreciation for the struggles that they have, and it just completely changes the person that you are," explains DeMuth.
The next group of students travel to Haiti on October 16th. The students earn college credit, but all of the travel expenses come out of their own pocket. The program has become so popular and successful that participation levels more than doubled this year.