Olha Vasyliv ’23 wins $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant
It was a normal doctor's visit. The doctor took the patient's vitals, asked a few questions and prescribed a common medicine. Brigid O'Gorman '11,the daughter of a physician and an aspiring doctor herself, had seen it all before.
What surprised her was the little blue booklet.
It was a flimsy blue exam book, the same kind O'Gorman and her schoolmates in western New York had used to scribble the answers to high school essay questions. But for the patient in Kaberamaido, Uganda, it was a medical record, and his only identification.
"Kaberamaido is in a region of Uganda that has been devastated by war," O'Gorman said. "They have almost no infrastructure, and only one hospital and three clinics to serve the entire population. There is no central record keeping system, so doctors write important medical information in little blue books that patients carry with them."
Only about half of Kaberamaido's residents have a blue book, and many are lost or ruined, leaving patients with no medical history. The blue book system was initially developed as a temporary measure, but no permanent solution has been developed for the war torn region. Until now.
O'Gorman, a biology major at Connecticut College, was intrigued by the fragile system, which she witnessed firsthand in the spring of 2009 while on a medical mission with the Asayo's Wish Foundation, a Utah-based charity that operates an orphanage and medical clinic in the region. So she developed a plan for a permanent electronic recordkeeping system and applied for a $10,000 grant from the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program.
"My goal is to ensure the durability of the records by transferring the information in the blue books to a medical database on solar-powered computers," O'Gorman said.
Recently, O'Gorman learned she has won the grant, which will allow her to purchase all of the necessary equipment - four computers, four solar panels, two printers, electronic medical record software, a laminating machine and an encrypted external hard drive. With an additional $3,000 from the College's funded internship program, she will spend eight weeks in Kaberamaido implementing the new system this summer.
"I'm not a wiz at the computer, but I figured I could get a system and teach myself how to input the data before I go," she said.
The computers will be located at the hospital and at the Elizabeth Durante medical clinic at the Asayo's Wish orphanage. For O'Gorman, implementing the system at the clinic will not only help the orphans she fell in love with while volunteering last year, but also honor the memory of an inspirational friend.
The clinic is named for Elizabeth Durante '10, one of two Connecticut College students who recruited O'Gorman and nearly a dozen other Connecticut College students to travel with the Asayo's Wish Foundation last spring. A member of the women's hockey team, O'Gorman was scheduled to travel to Uganda with the group but delayed her departure when the team made the conference semifinals. While the rest of the students were on their way to the airport, their van was struck by a drunk driver. Durante was killed, and several other students were injured.
"Traveling to Africa on a medical mission had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl," O'Gorman, who is an Active Emergency Medical Technician-B with training in basic life support, said. "When Liz said she was planning a trip to Africa, I jumped at the chance."
"After the accident, I had a lot of support from my family, coaches and teammates, who encouraged me to go and take the bags of medical supplies we had collected," O'Gorman said. "One of my teammates helped me condense our 20 bags into 12 - the maximum I was allowed to bring on the plane. I'm sure the bags were overweight, but somehow I got them all on the plane."
After delivering the supplies, O'Gorman worked with the local doctor, Dr. Oscar Ochan, to create medical blue books for the children in the Asayo's Wish orphanage.
"Many of the orphans didn't even know how old they were," she said. "We had to estimate their ages and take their height and weight, and then we gave them their own blue books. And I kept thinking, 'These kids are going to lose these!'"
With the new electronic recordkeeping system, the information from the blue books will be entered into a permanent system on the computer, which will be powered by solar panels purchased from Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
"The project will create a self-sustaining, energy efficient and cost-reductive power circuit," O'Gorman said. The data in the computers will be organized using electronic medical record software, and each individual will have his or her picture taken and be given an ID number, she added.
The ID number, along with the person's full name and photo, will be printed on a laminated clinic card, which will be used to access the medical record and serve as proof of identification.
"What Brigid is doing is awesome," Sarah Asayo, founder of the Asayo's Wish Foundation, said. "This database is something that will help the community get better medical care."
O'Gorman plans to stay at the Asayo's Wish orphanage, which is home to nearly 180 children, with many more on a waiting list.
"Brigid is very independent and one thing that touches me about her is the way she is with the children," Asayo said. "She plays with them like she has known them before and doesn't let the language barrier get in the way. And she plays sports with them, which they love."
O'Gorman, an avid athlete and captain of the Connecticut College women's hockey team, said she was impressed by the children's athletic skills.
"When I went last spring I took over a bunch of soccer balls donated by my sister's fourth grade class," O'Gorman said. "I'm an athlete, so I was trying to show the kids some moves, but they were so good. One of the older boys took the ball from me and really showed me up."
O'Gorman said she also taught the children to play street hockey with homemade hockey sticks fashioned from fallen tree limbs and donated street hockey blades.
"They caught on really fast," she said. "They didn't really want to know the rules of the game, they just wanted to hit the ball around, which was fine by me."
See O'Gorman's photos.
Working with the children has already had an impact on O'Gorman. "I've always wanted to go to medical school, and now I think maybe I'll become a pediatrician," she said.