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University of Michigan Health System volunteers plan to make a difference in Nicaragua

Mission trip emphasizes basic medical procedures and checkups for Nicaragua’s poorest, most underserved citizens

DeAnn Vansickle (back, second from right) and
Patricia Sovitch (front, second from right) during a
previous visit to Nicaragua

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Whether at the University of Michigan medical center, or half a world away in the jungle of Nicaragua, Patricia Sovitch says her mission remains the same.

“I just feel really strongly about helping others,” says the nurse practitioner who cares for heart patients at the U-M Cardiovascular Center.

On Feb. 3, Sovitch heads south to Nicaragua to offer basic health care to some of the country’s poorest citizens. She’ll travel with three other U-M volunteers, and the Central American patients who await them may have never had a medical appointment before.

“We’re doing very basic things like providing vitamins and painkillers,” says Sovitch of patients who may also deal with proper nutrition. “And they’re so grateful, even for little things like that. It’s very rewarding for us.”

Along with Sovitch, Eryn Smith, a physician assistant in the Cardiovascular Center; DeAnn Vansickle, a nurse in Quality Improvement; and Jill Rothley, a technologist in nuclear medicine will participate in the medical mission trip sponsored by non-denominational church, Journey’s Crossing, based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Sovitch and Vansickle have participated in the trip before, while Smith and Rothley are going for the first time.

The Michigan volunteers will join 20 to 25 others on the trip for nine days. The group will conduct six clinics in rural and urban areas around the capital of Managua, seeing as many as 500 people at each clinic.

Toting medical equipment and a stocked supply of medicine, the group will provide services such as full physicals, blood pressure readings, pregnancy tests, urine testing and glucose testing.

“We take for granted a lot of the medical services we have in the U.S.,” says Vansickle. “You really feel like what you’re doing there makes a difference in these peoples’ lives.”

The trip is not sponsored by U-M, and the travelers are paying their own travel expenses with help from fundraisers. A final fundraiser is Friday at the Spotted Dog Winery in Saline, Mich.

For Smith, the trip is an opportunity to help fulfill U-M’s commitment as a global health care provider and local partner in caring for the underserved.

“We’re blessed in this country that most of us have access to medical care,” he says. “But the goal with this trip is go to a place where there’s no safety net. We want to go there and just perform medicine. Do what needs to be done to help.”

Sovitch agrees, and says although it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the level of poverty in Nicaragua, it’s always rewarding to help those who need it most.

“A lot of the people we see have never seen a medical provider,” she says. “As small as our effort is, it really makes a big difference. We’re there to help, but really it’s gratifying for us too.”

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Note to media: For more information about the fundraising event, please contact Jill Rothley at Sovitch, Smith, Vansickle and Rothley will be available for interviews after their return in mid-February.

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