Although a seasoned traveler from as early as the fifth grade as a member of school groups overseas, Skyler Trice’s trip to Africa last summer was a very different adventure for a very different purpose.
Through a major volunteer organization called Projects Abroad, the 17-year-old Newtown resident ventured alone to East Africa for a one-month internship in a hospital in Tanzania. There she helped in the treatment of patients with a range of diseases and conditions, from HIV/AIDS to cleft palate, as well as assisting in child births and the care of new mothers and their babies.
A senior at The Hill School, Pottstown, Skyler chose this particular internship program because the in-depth hands-on medical experience it offered was beyond anything she had seen while volunteering at hospitals here at home for the past four years and would be invaluable in her pursuit of a medical career.
Her journey to East Africa was itself an adventure, using the cheapest flights and negotiating through several airports in different countries over a long few days. At Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro airport, near the town of Arusha, she was met by the Masai family she would be staying with for the next few weeks.
A typical day began with chai tea, her favorite, with the Masai couple and their four children in their modest home followed by a short bus or taxi ride to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to work with the doctors, staff and other volunteers, most of whom were medical and pre-med students and physicians involved with Doctors Without Borders.
“I started each morning doing rounds with the doctors checking on patients. We dressed and cleaned wounds and attended lectures on a range of topics including new surgical techniques and tropical diseases.” Practical instruction included observing skin graft surgery, cleft palate repair and assisting with child birthing.
Before being permitted to go on medical outreach with the other volunteers, Skyler needed to be Red Cross certified.
“On my third day in Tanzania, I spent 14 hours with a micro-facial surgeon who taught me just about every emergency medical and survival skill I needed to be certified. I now even know how to treat hemotoxic snake bites without any medical supplies.”
Once certified, Skyler went on day trips to a clinic in Kenya, helping to treat hundreds of patients of all ages and learning some basic Swahili in order to record patient information for the doctors.
“The medical outreach trips were easily the most rewarding to me because I was able to directly hand families the medicine they desperately needed to treat the most common diseases and infections they struggled with daily. Even though they had very little, they were happy with their families and were always friendly and smiling.”
Her final week as an intern was spent working with maternity patients, helping to examine newborns and caring for new mothers, as well as testing for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
“I loved working in the clinic because of the patient interaction, but it was heartbreaking to see a vast number of patients turned away simply because not enough medication was available,” she said.
Currently, she is raising money for the non-profit American Foundation for Children with AIDS, as well as the Operation Smile organization, which provides for cleft palate and lip surgeries for third-world children.
Skyler is the only daughter (she has two younger brothers) of Melissa and Todd Trice, a commercial photographer. A keen photographer herself, an image she took of a Masai woman walking on an Arusha street was shown in the recent Phillips Mill photography exhibition.
She plans to volunteer at hospitals locally this summer following graduation from The Hill School and before beginning pre-med at a college yet to be decided.
Her Tanzanian internship was an “extraordinary and amazing” experience observing at first hand lifesaving medical practices she would not have been exposed to in the US.
“I was inspired by what I saw and practiced and feel even more empowered to continue my lifelong journey to become a doctor and pursue my dream,” she said. “My memories of the many patients draw me back to that tiny hospital in Tanzania, where I know I will end up again someday.”
PHOTO CAP: Skyler Trice