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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Big Variety of Animals On Tenth Trip To Nicaragua

October 5th, 2017

For the tenth year in a row, a team of OSU veterinary students, veterinary technicians, and veterinarians have set up a free clinic on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. The communities there rely on OSU to bring much-needed care to their livestock and pets, many of whom are diseased and suffering from malnutrition.

The Ometepe trip is sponsored by the OSU International Veterinary Student Association, so Co-Presidents Andrew Schlueter and Kristen Wineinger spent their summer fundraising and tackling the big job of organizing and transporting dozens of volunteers, and hundreds of pounds of supplies, to a third-world county on an island in the middle of a lake.

For Schlueter, the most challenging part was deciding what to take. “After doing inventory of donated supplies, I had to figure out what else we needed for six days of clinics, knowing I had limited space,” he says. “And I wasn’t exactly sure what was in storage down there, so it was a bit of guess-work and just hoping we didn’t run out.”

All the gear and people arrived without incident and then the team began the physical labor of setting up an efficient ‘hospital’ with stations for intake, exams, diagnostics, surgery, and recovery. The stations consists of folding tables and picnic tables on a cement floor in an old industrial building that is open on three sides. They also set up an area for public health education. Then people from all over the island start lining up with their animals. “Many of the people attending the clinic have walked two or three hours,” says Schlueter. “They are prepared to spend all day waiting for us to see their animals.”

Students who volunteer for the Nicaragua service trip get a leg up on their future veterinary career. They see diseases that aren’t common in the U.S. but which could occur in future patients; they get early, intensive participation in surgery; and they get to practice diagnostic skills they have only read about in books. “It is good preparation for becoming a vet,” says Schlueter. “We do so much while we are there. If you are on Wellness you will do 20 blood draws in a day. You get to do fine-needle aspirates, and a lot of things you would not do until you are a fourth-year vet student, or even an actual vet. They just throw you right in there.”

On his first day Schlueter was stationed in wellness where he did exams, drew blood, ordered diagnostic tests, and decided where the patients went next. “On the first day we saw a rabbit whose owner had paid a vet $20 to remove a mass on its jaw. They wanted make sure it was healing okay. It wasn’t; it had an infection, so we gave it antibiotics.” The family must have really loved that rabbit, because in Nicaragua, $20 would buy three rabbits to raise as food animals.

Everyone on Ometepe learns to be resourceful. The diagnostic station uses donated microscopes and the one with the highest magnification quit working. This prevented them from doing platelet counts. “One of the criteria for sending an animal to surgery, even just a spay or neuter, is to get a good count to make sure their blood will clot,” says Schlueter. “The working microscopes could only go to 40x, so we switched to another method. We used little tools to cut the inside of their gums, then timed how long it took them to stop bleeding.”

The OSU team treated 646 animals including dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses, a chicken and a parrot. They even dewormed a tame squirrel.

Several veterinarians volunteered for the trip including Dr. Dan Lewer from Willamette Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Elizabeth York, a large animal surgeon from Tuskegee University, and Dr. Nicky Poole, a mixed animal practitioner from Virginia. Dr. Hernan Montilla, a Florida veterinarian, has been a long-time participant in the Ometepe clinics. Dr. Breeana Beechler, OSU faculty, worked on the public health part of the clinic (see related story in Animal Connection).

For Schlueter, the most rewarding part of the trip was seeing his classmates enjoy the experience. “It was the first time many of them had been involved in a surgery, and after they had done a spay or a neuter,” he says. “It was great seeing how much they learned and how happy they were about it.”




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