Medical mission Bormann shares skills with Guatemalans

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Jackie Bormann, an NIT physical therapist based in Elkader, works with a Guatemalan woman whose prosthetic leg doesn’t fit. Bormann spent a week in the country on a medical misson.
Jackie Bormann, an NIT physical therapist based in Elkader, works with a Guatemalan woman whose prosthetic leg doesn’t fit. Bormann spent a week in the country on a medical misson.
Medical mission Bormann shares skills with Guatemalans
Bormann does an assessment on a 14-year-old girl with spina bifida and severe scoliosis. She is hoping that a medical team will come and do surgeries to straighten out her back, but Bormann is unsure it will happen at this time.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

The desire to help others that drew Tipton native Jackie Bormann to a career in physical therapy is also the reason she applied for a medical mission to Guatemala.

Bormann, who lives in Elkader with her husband, Jarod, and their three children, works at Central Community Hospital. She recently returned from a weeklong work trip to Latin America sponsored by her employer, Northern Iowa Therapy (NIT). NIT is the company that provides therapy services to the hospital. Bormann was one of three employees who made the trip. The spouse of one woman also participated. He helped villages figure out how to monitor chlorine levels in the new pipes of their water system.

“Our company is celebrating their 25th year in business,” Bormann said. “The owners have big hearts and are always looking at ways to give back—not just locally but also globally. They adopted two sons from Guatemala and decided to make that the place to send three therapists annually.”
NIT worked with a Minnesota-based organization called Friends of San Lucas to place its therapists. The city of San Lucas Toliman, where Bormann and her colleagues saw patients in San Lucas Toliman, a city of 17,000 located about 60 miles west of Guatemala City, the country’s capital. They also treated patients in several less populated villages.

“We would take off in the morning riding in the back of a truck and go to these villages, which were within a 25-minute radius of San Lucas Toliman,” Bormann said. Each village had a long-term mission volunteer that works with health professionals as well as a villager trained to be a “health promoter.”

Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. It has some of the highest infant mortality rates, and one of the lowest life expectancies at birth in the region. The country also has a high incidence of spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome and other developmental problems brought on by medical factors like lack of prenatal vitamins and cultural differences like carrying babies 24/7 until they can walk.

“Most of them never learn to crawl, which is something that’s essential for motor and reflect development,” Bormann said, who earned a doctorate in physical therapy at Des Moines University.

According to Bormann, most homes in the area she served were one or two rooms with as many as eight people living in them. In more remote areas, water is trucked in once every eight days. “Everyone fills up a tank and that water has to last for eight days,” Bormann said, adding that the limited amount of water has an impact on the frequency of showering and washing clothes.

“That water is not drinkable so every night between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., drinkable water is brought in, and there are lines of people (waiting for it),” Bormann added.

Despite poverty, language barriers and other issues, Bormann and her colleagues were always warmly invited into villagers’ homes; the homes and meager furnishings were always clean.

Some medical care is available in the country but not necessarily in the area where Bormann worked. She heard many stories of people making 6-hour round-trips to see a medical care provider—and often the person they saw wasn’t the person most qualified to address their concerns or treat their problems.

“So we’d show them exercises, give advice, provide some education, and sometimes recommend seeing other specialists,” Bormann explained.

    Bormann saw several people with conditions similar to her U.S. patients but the Guatemalans lag significantly behind their American counterparts in treatment due to limited medical access and different approaches to medical conditions. For example, she treated one woman who lost her leg after getting hit by a car. Her prosthesis was made before the swelling was gone from the affected leg. When the limb returned to normal size, the prosthetic leg was too big.

“We gave her exercises to strengthen her core, a lot of education on walking, and a recommendation to get the prosthetic looked at,” said Bormann. “The hard part is if they pay for something like that it usually takes all of their money. They don’t have insurance or, for that matter, retirement. They work until they die or can’t work anymore—and then their family has to care for them.”

Bormann said she also treated a man who’d had a stroke more than year earlier. Her visit with him was the first time he was seeing a therapist.

“In the U.S., he’d have gotten intense hospital therapy then outpatient therapy three times a week, and he probably would’ve been very functional and back to work,” she said. “He didn’t even know what therapy was. . .so we did a lot of education and gave him some exercises. We also talked to the mission to ee if we could somehow get him some work. If he can’t bring in money for his family, his 10-year-old might have to start helping financially.”

Children in San Lucas receive a free education until 6th grade. After that, families must pay and since most can’t afford it, youngsters are sent to work instead.

Another patient was an 8-year-old girl who’d been wearing a hard plastic leg brace—for treatment of a sprained ankle! Bormann and her colleagues gave the girl exercises to increase her overall strength. Her prognosis is psotive.

Bormann admits that the trip was challenging because she dealt with situations she doesn’t see on a day-to-day basis here. She was also keenly aware that she had only one shot at treating folks and that they wouldn’t be seen by another therapist of six month or a year.
“But it took me back to why I became a physical therapist,” she add, “so I could help people. We weren’t under any time limits for insurance purposes (since they have no insurance) so we were encouraged to sit and listen to their stories and treat them.”

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