Writer(s): Emily Thompson
Emily Sullivan and her medical team are on a mission. It's an early Tuesday morning in March, and a group of 13 Ball State students, nine medical professionals from all over the world and a team of local doctors are traveling to a community near Tena, Ecuador. However, the trek doesn't go as smoothly as they had hoped.
Along the way the team runs into a roadblock, in the honest sense. In the middle of the road they need to travel on, a few construction workers are in the process of pouring huge rocks to form a road. They stop the trucks, and roughly 30 people pile out to help the workers put the rocks in place to level out the road.
"We literally had to build our road to get to the community," Sullivan says.
The group was going to set up a medical clinic to see patients who hadn't had access to medical care in nearly three months, and they weren't about to let a few rocks stand in their way.
This was Sullivan's third consecutive year traveling to volunteer in Ecuador. A junior health science major, Sullivan is the president of the Ball State chapter of Timmy Global Health (formerly the Timmy Foundation), an Indianapolis-based organization that plans and executes medical brigades to Ecuador, Guatemala and Nigeria. One of 18 university chapters, the Ball State chapter was established in 2003.
When Sullivan was a freshman, she initially thought she wanted to study pre-med. She loved the idea of traveling and helping others, so her goal was to participate in Doctors Without Borders. Then one day, she received an email about Timmy Global Health. She went to the call-out meeting, applied for the program and was accepted.
The organization had Sullivan's name written all over it. Her mother is from Cuba, and Sullivan had a strong interest in health education and promotion in Central and South America. She also grew up in Texas where she studied Spanish from elementary through high school. Today, Sullivan minors in the language. Before she knew it, Sullivan was on her way to Quito, Ecuador over winter break for the Ball State chapter medical brigade.
"What I realized from my freshman year trip is that I was able to make a difference without even being a doctor," Sullivan says. "I was serving as a translator, and I was able to help out these patients without a medical degree. When I came back, I knew I wanted to pursue something like that, so I changed my major to health science with an interest in health education and health promotion."
The trip helped define her field of study, but Sullivan says that she definitely dealt with culture shock, as it was the first time she traveled outside of the U.S.
"A lot of the people who came in to get medicine from us were just getting simple, over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or cough medicine," Sullivan says. "It was just so surprising to me. These people would come in and say, 'I've had stomach pains or diarrhea for like three months straight now.' One woman was coughing up worms. So I was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that these people don't have as easy access to healthcare and medications like we do in the States, and it really just made me realize how much we take for granted."
Last year, she traveled with the Ball State Timmy brigade once again. This time, Sullivan says she was more prepared.
"It gets easier, but I still am always very excited for it," Sullivan says.
Although she had already been to Ecuador the previous year, her second trip was very different. Instead of traveling to Ecuador's capital city, the group made its way to Tena, which is a five to six hour bus ride from Quito. Tena is in the Amazonian region of the country and is less developed than Quito.
After two consecutive years of working with the Ball State Timmy brigade, Sullivan was elected president for the 2011-2012 academic year. Although the group was planning a trip to Tena over spring break again, Sullivan says that the added presidential responsibilities made her third year a different experience. Another factor that made this trip different than the previous two was that Sullivan's fianc?, Derek Miller, would be making the trek to Ecuador for the first time and was the only male student of the 13 going on the trip.
On March 2, the last day of classes before spring break, the Ball State chapter of Timmy Global Health left for Ecuador. The team spent all weekend traveling to Tena, and by the time they reached their destination, they were ready to get started. Beginning Monday morning around 8 a.m., the students split up into two groups that each traveled to a different surrounding community. During past years, the group has served around four communities, but by splitting up into two groups, this year they were able to set up clinics in nine communities.
Once they made it to the various destinations, the brigade set up five different stations: name check and medical history, triage station (where they took the patients' vitals), doctors' examination, pharmacy and a fluoride station for the children. The students rotated between the various stations, while the medical professionals worked to diagnose and treat the patients.
This year was sophomore Morgan McCloskey's first year going to Ecuador. Much like Sullivan, she went on the trip knowing that she was interested in some sort of medical career. McCloskey says that one of her favorite parts of the trip was learning about how to treat patients.
One patient had been dealing with pain from a cyst on her hip for 20 years, and McCloskey had the opportunity to assist the medical professionals in removing the cyst.
Because many of the clinics were set up in schoolhouses or public buildings, volunteers only had the tools and resources they brought with them on the trip. So the doctors lined up desks, sterilized the tops, hung up a blanket for privacy and asked the woman to lie across the desktops on her side. The doctors then made a small incision on the cyst, drained it and stitched it afterward. Although she didn't actually get to make the incision, McCloskey held the forceps and passed tools to the doctors.
In addition to everything she learned from the medical professionals, McCloskey also says she really enjoyed working with Sullivan in Ecuador.
"I love Emily," McCloskey says. "Our personalities are kind of alike, so we like to tease each other. If you heard us talk to each other, you would think that we don't like each other at all, but she has a great sense of humor, and she's fun to be around. She's a great president. She's got a heart made of gold."
McCloskey says she plans to follow in Sullivan's footsteps and return to Ecuador each year she's at Ball State.
"I don't think that I'll ever go back to a normal spring break," McCloskey says. "I have no desire to go down to Florida or any crazy spring breaks. I just know that for the next two years, I want to go back down [to Ecuador], and I want to do the same thing."
August Longino, the medical brigade coordinator who lives and works in Tena, Ecuador, says he also enjoyed working with Sullivan.
"I think her greatest achievement was keeping a gang of college students on-task and focused for a week in the jungle," Longino says. "I was grateful and proud of her for that."
As for Sullivan, she plans to return to Ecuador next year for her senior year trip. After graduation, Sullivan and her fianc? hope to join the Peace Corps to continue work in international healthcare.
"After these trips I've had with Timmy Global Health, I definitely do want to continue pursing international work," Sullivan says. "It seems to be my calling."Return to top