Student Storyteller: A Stroke of Service

I walk slowly through the stroke ward at Auckland City Hospital, my thoughts consumed by how I am about to interact with a participant in a stroke rehabilitation study. An actual patient! I help talk with patients to assist the person performing a transmagnetic brain stimulation. This is a huge responsibility, and I feel its weight as I stop at the nurses’ station to gather the patient’s chart and label the papers. I wonder, “Is this what it will feel like when I actually am a doctor?”

This is a sample of what my days were like during an internship this fall at the Centre for Brain Research in the Sir John Logan Campbell Neurology Research Unit in Auckland, New Zealand.

The unit’s primary focus is on stroke rehabilitation and one major part of the ongoing research project is testing the algorithmic prediction of upper limb recovery after stroke. Algorithmic prediction of upper limb recovery is important because it gives scientists a prognosis of a patient’s potential to recover motor function. Predicting motor recovery after stroke in individual patients is difficult and I was lucky enough to observe and participate in this study through each step, including working on the stroke ward at the hospital. While the prognosis for a limb is not always good, it helps a physical therapist focus on patient needs and possible recovery options.

The semester abroad was an amazing opportunity. It opened my eyes to the procedures and tremendous effort required for major brain research. My time at Wake Forest prepared me for this endeavor through hard work, attention to detail, and instilling the beliefs that I am capable and here to make a difference. I also had the good fortune to be a research assistant with Psychology Professor Dale Dagenbach at the Laboratory for Complex Brain Networks at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.  The opportunity to participate in research as an undergraduate student, especially beginning as a sophomore, is another unusual yet tremendous benefit of my Wake Forest experience.

The New Zealand semester began in mid-July and ended mid-November, so I found myself with an extra month before I had to return to the United States to get ready for spring semester. I wanted that time to mean something, so I headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to continue my service work with Caring For Cambodia. Caring For Cambodia is a grassroots organization that has grown into 17 schools, all built from the ground up with full backing of the Cambodian government.

I originally traveled to Siem Reap in the seventh grade with my family to build the first kindergarten in Cambodia. The Cambodian children and their families touched my life forever.  This was my third trip to Cambodia and I helped train teachers, worked with fourth graders in a health education program, assisted in water quality testing and also the construction of the first ever database of growth chart information for Cambodian children. To date, the World Health Organization still has no statistical data regarding Cambodian children.

I am grateful for this amazing journey, the semester abroad of my Wake Forest education. The opportunity to learn and grow while in Auckland, both in the classroom and out, was a tremendous gift. I participated in a major research project, interacted with patients, studied the history and culture of an amazing country, made some lifetime friends, and wrapped it all up with an unforgettable month of service in Cambodia. Pro Humanitate.

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