By Wendy Sarubbi | September 12, 2011 9:51 am

Second-year M.D. student Dennrik Abrahan spent more than two months in Haiti this summer testing the skills he has learned as a medical student at the UCF College of Medicine.

He took medical histories, watched doctors treat rare illnesses, but most importantly, Dennrik helped save lives. He trained Haitian midwives and doctors in a procedure to help resuscitate babies born with breathing difficulties, giving them a better chance of survival. It’s a new technique developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization especially for rural communities where professional health care can be 50 miles away or farther.

“When you work with a patient in the field, you think, ‘Wow, I’ve learned a lot.’ The learning makes more sense,” Dennrik said.

In June, pediatrician and College of Medicine mentor Dr. Tom Lacy and a University of Florida medical student joined Dennrik in his effort.

“We strongly believe in sustainable health care,” said Dr. Lacy, who helped establish the non-profit Hands Up for Haiti. “All the doctor volunteers in our group treat, but we also educate because we want to help people take care of themselves.”

The infant mortality rate in Haiti is high – with 70 out of 1,000 babies dying compared to the U.S. rate of 16 out of 1,000.

Kits needed to resuscitate babies are expensive – $220 each – and they can’t be found in Haiti. So the Walt Disney Pavilion at Florida Hospital for Children donated money to Hands Up for Haiti, and volunteers bought kits. Thirteen Haitian midwives and doctors were trained and can go back to their villages and teach 10 more providers.

Dennrik has been traveling to Haiti since he was an undergraduate student at UCF. In fact, he is the volunteer coordinator for another non-profit organization – Haiti Village Health. Dr. Lacy began his trips to Haiti in 2010 shortly after a tremendous earthquake crippled the country and injured and killed thousands. It was that experience that made Dr. Lacy start Hands Up for Haiti. The group, which includes physicians from New York and New Jersey, has six trips planned for 2011.

The latest trip wasn’t just about saving babies, Dr. Lacy said. It’s also a learning experience he highly recommends for students who can afford it. Because of a U.S. Department of State travel warning, Florida medical schools cannot send students to Haiti. So students interested must use their vacation time and pay their own way. But it is well worth it.

“It’s such a tremendous experience,” Dr. Lacy said. “From a clinical point of view, they see pathology in four days which they wouldn’t see in a whole year of medical school.”

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