Since 2004, Jodee Fortner ’99PT, M.S., has led teams of physical therapists, Arcadia students, and general helpers to Arequipa, Peru, to provide pediatric physical therapy services. The two-week project is in collaboration with Medical Ministry International. Physical therapist team members provide direct physical therapy equipment (wheelchairs, braces, walkers, crutches) and services for disabled children.
“I believe learning in Peru gives the students the upper hand on problem solving and figuring out innovative ways to meet the needs of the patients with limited resources,” says Fortner. “It also teaches you to focus on the important needs and not to overwhelm the patient with tons of exercises or interventions.”
Medical Ministry International strives to establish permanent medical centers in addition to short-term projects. Fortner is in the initial stages of establishing a permanent, year-round center in Arequipa that will provide physical therapy as well as optometry services to the poor. In addition, faculty and staff of Arcadia and Southwest Baptist University will train local therapists with more advanced techniques. The project could take up to three years. “I hope that some of these Peruvian therapists who attend the courses will catch the vision of the permanent center and will want to work there either full-time or part-time. Ideally we want the permanent center to be self-sustaining and staffed by local therapists,” she says.
Fortner has learned many things since she began working in Peru but comments particularly on her newfound appreciation for the health services in the U.S. “I feel we often take it for granted. Even my friends in Peru who have medical problems have to travel to Lima for proper care or pay $50 U.S. a day for medications,” she says. “The access to specialized devices [in Peru], such as wheelchairs for children, is very rare and nearly impossible to find even if one has some resources.”
Fortner fully realized the clinic’s impact on the surrounding Peruvian communities last August when a small group of younger adults with debilitating spinal cord injuries traveled five hours to Fortner’s clinic in very old or ill-fitting wheelchairs. Fortner was grateful to have had several refurbished, lighter-weight and easier to propel specialized wheelchairs that were appropriate for the weary travelers. “They were all so thrilled to receive new wheelchairs as I can only imagine how much easier it would be to get around and also to work or find a job,” says Fortner. “These were young folks with much life yet to live.”
“Sharing my knowledge and skills with the local therapists has been very rewarding,” says Fortner. “The therapists here are eager to learn and serve their people. It's also rewarding to offer something as simple as a cane or a walker and see the joy on a person's face as they learn to use it.”
Fortner is still in need of physical and occupational therapists, Spanish speaking translators and those who are wheelchair specialists. For more information or to donate to this cause, visit Medical Ministry International at www.mmint.org or contact Fortner for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.