PLATTSBURGH — Donna Brault and her family spent this year’s summer vacation enjoying the beauty and splendor of the Caribbean tropics.
However, Brault was involved in a lot more than tourism and sightseeing during her two-week stay on the island of Dominica in mid-July.
As a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, she traveled to Dominica to share her life-saving skills with the island’s health-care providers.
“People in the Dominicas don’t have training in basic CPR skills,” Brault said as she talked recently about her experiences in the Caribbean. “Many of the health-care opportunities we take for granted are not available down there.”
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is a small island southeast of Cuba and bordered by Martinique to the south and Guadalupe to the north. It has a population of about 75,000 people and is considered one of the poorest nations per capita in the eastern Caribbean.
“We (the people of Dominica) have had trouble keeping our health-care system up to standards,” said Dr. Winston Thomas, a cardiac anesthesiologist who works per diem at CVPH and was born and raised on Dominica.
“We have a shortage of physicians, nurses, equipment and medical supplies.”
Using his connection with the government of Dominica and his medical relations in the United States, Thomas has been actively pursuing ways to improve health-care conditions on the island with services such as Brault’s two-week visit.
“We are a Third World country,” he said. “We haven’t had the opportunities that are taken for granted in the U.S. My main goal is to get physicians (from the States) to come in, drive around and do clinics for our citizens.
“We’d also like to have physicians (from Dominica) come up to the States and shadow our physicians, perhaps get involved in internships to see how we conduct health care,” he added.
While on Dominica, Brault offered a series of CPR-training classes for physicians, counselors, dentists, physical therapists and office help. In all, she trained 38 health-care providers on basic life-saving skills.
“It was great to see how excited they were (while receiving training),” she said of her students. “They were like children seeing a lightning bug for the first time. It’s great to know that we can do a little something that makes a big difference.”
In fact, her last session was held on a day when a tropical storm raged across the island, but she still had full-class participation.
Dominica has one primary hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital in the island’s capital city of Rouseau, Brault said.
Whereas automated external defibrillators (AEDs) have become commonplace in health-care facilities and elsewhere in the United States, Dominica has only three of the devices that have become so essential in saving people’s lives.
“They are very thankful for everything they have instead of worrying about what they don’t have,” Brault said. “They’re a glass-half-full kind of people; they want to know, ‘How can we make better with what we have.’
“I have a whole different appreciation in life in general, a new appreciation for what we do have,” she added of her return to Plattsburgh.
Offering Dominica’s health-care providers an opportunity to learn CPR and other life-saving techniques will allow those people to train others in Dominica, she added.
She hopes to return in January when she will spend time with the island’s emergency-response personnel to provide them with live-saving skills.
Thomas first came to Plattsburgh in 2009 as part of the cardiology team with Dr. Anne Cahill but has since decided to work per diem while pursuing his goal to help the health-care system in his homeland.
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Dr. Winston Thomas is searching for medical equipment and supplies that could be used to improve medical conditions on Dominica. Anyone who has or knows of equipment that is not being used can contact Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.