Destrehan native travels to Panama to provide medical care to less fortunate

Avery Bourdonnay (right) on medical mission trip.

Avery Bourdonnay admits a part of her was a bit fearful before her recent visit to Meteti, Panama – she had never been outside of the United States before and wasn’t sure what to expect.

What she got, she says, was one of the best experiences of her life. The Destrehan native traveled as part of a medical mission trip via LSU’s Global Brigades program. The program sees volunteers with its medical school travel to help under-served countries. The student-led health initiative spends the year fundraising and collecting supplies for the seven to 10-day trip.

The goal for the students is to enhance clinical skills while working alongside experienced healthcare professionals and helping a community that needs the assistance.

“I had never left America,” Bourdonnay said. “I was really a bit scared because you’re not sure how safe it is some places. it was a five-hour drive into Panama City and we passed a number of people who were fleeing Columbia. But it was such a cool, great experience.”

Bourdonnay, who is on a journey to become a physician, held a supply drive in preparation for the mission and credited her family and friends for helping considerably along the way. Part of her fundraising was also through a GoFundMe page she set up (Support Avery’s Mission to Panama) – the page is still active and helping her to cover the costs.

“The goal is to leave (the Panama residents) with supplies that can sustain them for some time,” she said.

Once she and her fellow students got there, they met with physicians, nurses and physical therapists from that area. Together, all were able to convert local schools to temporary medical clinics that would see patients over the course of four days.

Bourdonnay estimated that altogether, the groups were able to see more than 500 patients.

“We took patient vitals and if someone had very high blood pressure, we were able to address that. The physician would see them and they could get treated for it,” Bourdonnay said. “They don’t have medication for simple things over there. They don’t have medicine for diabetes … in some areas there’s not clean drinking water and we could supply parasitic medication.

“The pharmacy was a big part of what we could do – to be able to give them those medications and supplies free of charge … we saw a diverse range of cases while we were there.”

Outside of the medical work, there was plenty that made an impression on Bourdonnay.

On one day, Bourdonnay’s group was able to visit an indigenous community where the women put on a traditional dance to entertain the visitors.

“They were so welcoming of us into their community,” Bourdonnay said.

Others there sold handmade crafts –bracelets, necklaces and ornaments among them – and Bourdonnay said she has plenty of mementos to remember her time there.

But among the things she’ll remember most was the culture of the people.

“What struck me really was the community there,” she said. “Everyone is so happy. They don’t have half of what we do here in America. It’s not even close. But at the end of the day, they have an amazingly close-knit community, huge families and that really says something to me. You don’t need anything but your family, friends, the people close to you … that’s the secret to happiness.”

It was Bourdonnay’s family that inspired her to want to become a physician. Seeing her grandfather battle with some health issues and the doctors and nurses who helped him made Bourdonnay want to help others as well.

She works and volunteers in the medical field in Baton Rouge while she goes to school. Bourdonnay is going to be a senior this upcoming school year at LSU.

She saw photos of last year’s LSU medical mission, which initially piqued her interest in participating herself.

“I knew some (students) who went to Guatemala last year for this, and talked to them about it,” she said. “It’s not a common opportunity and I was pretty interested. They told me it was the best experience they’d ever been a part of.

“(From working and volunteering locally) I know the health need here in our own country, but I wanted to see what it was like on an international level, and to help how I could. I am really grateful to have had the chance to go.”


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