Rushford native uses medical skills to help the poor
By Bonnie PrinsenMonday, March 18, 2002
While many of us dreamed of traveling to a tropical climate during the Minnesota winter, Suzy Runkel spent two weeks in Honduras. But there was little time for relaxing, and it was not, by most standards, a vacation.
Nearly finished with her training to become a physician's assistant, Runkel joined the International Health Services February 15 to March 3 in its annual trip to deliver medical care, to those who wouldn't normally receive it, in Honduras.
Runkel graduated in 1996, and her husband, Mark, in 1995, both from Rushford-Peterson High School. They currently reside in La Crescent. She is the daughter of Dr. Richard Nelson of Rushford, who this year made his 11th trip to Honduras with the I.H.S.
Runkel and her father traveled with approximately one hundred volunteers, most of them medical professionals, to La Ceiba. From there, the group broke into teams of about ten and spread out to offer medical services to people in poverty-stricken coastal areas of the country.
Runkel's group, which included her father working on the dental side while she worked with medical patients, spent time in Kruta and Tiki Raya. Despite "roughing it" with no flush toilets, and no electricity, the team was able to provide healthcare for three days in each place.
Many of the same illnesses appeared over and over again, including skin infections like scabies, and other diseases resulting from impure water supplies, lack of personal hygiene products, and no shoes. It was routine to treat patients for parasitic infections. Whooping cough was prevalent, and Tiki Raya had just experienced an outbreak of malaria. The I.H.S. workers had taken malaria medication in preparation for the trip, as well as getting a number of immunizations.
The entire group treated over twelve hundred patients this year. I.H.S. also provides engineers to assist with building projects and water treatment issues. They focus on education, so as not to be merely providing "band-aid medicine," Runkel says. "We try to provide knowledge so that they can help themselves when we're not there."
One memorable experience for Runkel was when she helped deliver a baby. She'd assisted in a delivery previously during a clinical rotation, but found that "delivering a baby by candlelight and flashlight on the floor of a hut" was a new experience. The .....
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