On today’s episode of the podcast, Sarah Ecker PT, DPT, PRPC joins me to discuss the STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development) Haiti Project which is a nonprofit organization working to provide continual, orthopedic care to Haitian communities most in need. Sarah is a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health and has been traveling the country as a “Travel Therapist,” working in some of the United States’ most impoverished communities. Sarah is STAND’s Director of Pelvic Health and is continuing to help further the mission of STAND and ensure that women in Haiti have improved access to pelvic health and education.
In this episode, we discuss:
– What is the STAND Haiti Project and how you can get involved
–How Sarah’s pelvic health specialty led to surprising insights while volunteering in Haiti
-How language and cultural barriers impact your treatment
-Advice for physical therapy volunteers traveling abroad
-And so much more!
While volunteering in Haiti, Sarah began to realize that her pelvic health training was in need for this female population. She states, “Are the infections prevalent and common there? Sure, but also with chronic infection comes chronic tissue changes. We were definitely seeing a lot of prolapse, general pelvic floor dysfunction, different tissue changes, and incontinence. Things that are very common ailments I’ve seen in patients in the States. Just no one has ever really examined these women before. There is really very little, if any, gynecologist care or care surrounding pregnancy.”
After breaking through the language and cultural barriers, Sarah discovered that many Haitian women were not being treated for common pelvic health issues. She then set out to lead a team to focus specifically on pelvic health treatment. Sarah believes, “This is a population we can do something about. Once we started having that conversation and digging a little deeper with the women we were seeing that were in child bearing ages, it was really coming to the surface that they think this is normal, and this is okay, and this is something they have to live with.”
Empowering the Haitian women by educating them on pelvic health dysfunction was important to reaffirm their experiences. Sarah discovered, “I think this was a game changer when I said, ‘We see patients like this all the time in the United States. I treat these patients all the time. These are normal symptoms that happen with different life changes and experiences as a woman going through pregnancy and childbirth.’ Just to see the look on their faces when their like, ‘Oh, this is not just me. This is not my fault that I have these problems.’”
Once cultural barriers are broken and patient-therapist trust is built, educating patients can lead to breakthroughs. She stresses, “The most powerful, impactful thing you can do is to just start the conversation. It has to start with you because you’re the clinician and you have the information regardless of whether you have trepidation around even breaching the topic in cultures that stigmatize sex or pelvic health or embarrassing issues more than we do in our native countries… it’s really just educating, disseminating the information, letting people know these are common problems and it’s not their fault and most importantly you can do something about it. That’s the message that translates through any culture and any population.”
For more information about Sarah:
Sarah Ecker, PT, DPT, PRPC received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from New York University in 2011 after working for several years in the science, medicine, and technology department of a publishing company in the New York City area. She fell in love with pelvic health early on in her physical therapy career and worked in the NYC area at a specialized practice during which time she received her Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certificate from the Herman and Wallace Institute. For the last few years, Sarah has been traveling the country as a “Travel Therapist,” working in some of our nation’s most impoverished communities in just about every setting imaginable. Last year, Sarah discovered STAND: The Haiti Project, volunteered for 2 weeks in May, and instantly fell in love with the project, the people of Haiti, and the amazing co-founders of the organization, Morgan Denny and Justin Dunaway. Sarah is committed to continuing to help further the mission of STAND, and as STAND’s Director of Pelvic Health will help to ensure that women in Haiti have improved access to pelvic health and education. When Sarah is not working and traveling, she enjoys- well… traveling, cycling, anything that gets her outdoors, playing guitar, spending time with family, and home-brewing delicious craft beer.
For more information on STAND:
STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development) believes that freedom from pain and disability is a basic human right, not a privilege. In rural Haiti, only the highest socioeconomic class can afford medical care, but most people do not have access at all. This lack of access to the most basic care leads to widespread suffering from disabling pain and injury. These unaddressed ailments engender an environment where people lack the ability to work, farm, and care for themselves and their families. The social effects of this lack of care and community support are too often poverty, famine, and even death. By providing access to rehabilitative care, STAND aims to decrease disability and reverse its social effects on the populace. As a result, Haitians will be able to work, provide for their families, contribute to their communities, and ultimately enjoy a higher quality of life.
STAND: The Haiti Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to provide continual, orthopedic care to Haitian communities most in need. To accomplish this, STAND will equip local health workers with a rigorous orthopedic curriculum. A competent team of Haitian practitioners will be able to provide relief from disabling pain and injury at STAND facilities year-round, allowing people to return to productive, happy, and fulfilling lives. You can give a man a fish, or you can teach a man to fish. We do both.
During our trips to Haiti, we work to restore people’s functional mobility by providing comprehensive evaluation and treatment for a variety of conditions and injuries. Many have experienced traumatic and injurious events with no assistance or counsel from trained medical providers. Others are children born with orthopedic or neurological conditions. Each and every one of these people deserves a safe environment in which they can access quality and professional care. STAND provides manual physical therapy, wound care, patient education, orthotics, and the fabrication of prosthetics to meet the diverse needs of its patient population. Volunteer teams consisting of physical therapists, orthotists, prosthetists, general medical staff, educators, and students work to deliver these services to the highest standard. STAND also provides outreach programs to local hospitals, schools, orphanages, and assisted living facilities.
Ultimately, our clinics will be staffed year-round by STAND trained Haitian clinicians.
Check out the episode with Dr. Justin Dunaway and Dr. Morgan Denny about the STAND Haiti Project here!
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