Texas State provides respiratory care in Guyana

Texas State University respiratory care students, Jennifer Cruz and Bobby Shane Rodgers, intubate an intensive care unit patient at Georgetown Public Hospital. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.
Respiratory care student, Bobby Shane Rodgers, carefully measures Ipratropium Bromide Solution to insert into a nebulizer for a patient’s treatment. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.
Georgetown Public Hospital patient receives a breathing treatment under the care of Texas State University respiratory care students. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

To see the Texas State University respiratory care students in action at Georgetown Public Hospital, watch the video below:



People are the memories I will never forget

By Katie Burrell

I met so many different people in Guyana from children to elderly to travelers like me. Each person left a memory with me, allowing me to value my time in Guyana even more.

While abroad, we met people from the Ministry of Health who watched over us and helped us get places. They took us to hospitals, schools, and orphanage and a senior citizens home.

I’ll never forget my visit to McKenzie High School. We took a day off of working in the Linden hospital to visit the school and conduct asthma screening.

While we were there, I met students with big dreams of playing in the World Cup, visiting Canada and even a student who will be moving to Texas after she graduates. These students and their goals helped me realize, amid all the excitement, that I was living out one of my high school goals to leave the United States for travel.

While I was watching these kids play soccer in the courtyard, I realized I achieved my goal a few years later that 16 year-old had planned, but I think my trip to Guyana was right on time anyways. These kids inspired me to keep my goals high too, as I’m confident they will surely reach their’s too.

On our last day, one of my favorite memories was making 100 peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches to take to Sofia, a care center for children under 18 who may not have families. Our group hurried to make all of these sandwiches, load donations into two vans and hurry over to the senior home before meeting at Sofia to decorate and meet the kids.

While at the senior home I met with five people who had lived in Guyana all of their lives. There they met their spouse, raised their kids and worked their whole lives. They went to church, read books and told each other stories. Here I made memories listening to others share theirs and it assured me. The seniors talked to me about their travels, their great loves and even the little things they have done daily all their lives to enjoy happiness.

Much further in their lives than the students at the high school, I will remember the zest for life and living out their dreams these people had. One senior told me about her dream to have children and how she had two happy, healthy children who visit her every week. She told me about the joy of ready to grandchildren and sharing a meal with them each week.

The people of Guyana reminded me of the joy that comes from achieving goals and enjoying life as it comes.

When we went to the children’s home we witnessed pure happiness. I watched children run their fingers through their new books, run around with beach balls and stuff yummy peanut butter in their mouths.

In each of the places we went we saw happiness and laughter. We heard stories of dreams and goals being achieved. We exchanged stories of our cultures and of our families back home. I’m grateful to the people I met for being fun and entertaining but for reminding me, during a long journey away from home, why I was there.

Texas State University professor brings respiratory therapy students, donations to Guyana

By Skyler Jennings

SAN MARCOS, TX – Texas State University clinical associate professor Sharon Armstead took respiratory therapy students, knowledge and donations to Guyana in January 2018 on a study abroad program.

Armstead, the director of clinical education in the respiratory department at Texas State, was born in Guyana. She lived there off and on until she was about 15 years old when her family moved to Canada permanently. She did not return to Guyana until September 2015 on a medical mission trip with Bridges Global Medical Missions.

It was on her second mission trip there, in May 2016, that she decided to create the study abroad program; it was the respiratory department’s first independent study abroad program. She said she saw an issue with respiratory care in Guyana and knew she needed to bring students because one respiratory therapist, herself, wasn’t going to be enough.

Sharon Armstead (left) assisted Jennifer Cruz (right) while Cruz bagged a patient in Georgetown Public Hospital. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

“I’ve gone to Guyana. They don’t have [respiratory therapists],” said Armstead. “I saw the need for respiratory care, especially in Guyana, because when I worked in the [emergency room] I’d see many patients come in and they’d say they have wheezing, but they would never call it asthma.”

The reason, Armstead said, is because the country doesn’t have the tools necessary to diagnose it on a large scale. She said that Georgetown Public Hospital in Georgetown, Guyana, has an asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease clinic, but that it only has two spirometers. Spirometers are an instrument used to measure the capacity of the lungs.

When she received a $11,530 grant from the CHEST Foundation, Armstead knew she wanted to use it to help provide the country with the tools to test for asthma and COPD nationwide.

“For them to go out in the field…and try and do diagnoses, they would have to take their equipment out of the hospital,” said Armstead. “We were able to purchase two [mobile] spirometry units, so that now let’s say they want to go out into the interior of Guyana, they could take one of those mobile units with them and do spirometry testing.”

Her team of five respiratory therapy students from Texas State University left Jan. 2, 2018 for Guyana. Also on the team was a former student, who is now a registered respiratory therapist, to act as her assistant.

The students worked in two hospitals while in Guyana: Georgetown Public Hospital and Linden Hospital Complex. They worked in the intensive care unit checking ventilators, doing assessments and giving respiratory therapy education to nurses. They also worked in the emergency room.

Sharon Armstead (right) educated nursing students on respiratory therapy at Georgetown Public Hospital. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

“They participated in multidisciplinary rounds. They did oral care. They kind of did some graphic analysis on the ventilators,” said Armstead. “We basically did what we would do here (in the United States.)”

Claudette Heyliger-Thomas, the medical director for Bridges Global Medical Missions and a pediatrician in Atlanta, said she knows how important respiratory therapy is in a hospital and agrees with Armstead’s mission to bring it to Guyana.

“When I have to go for a regular delivery, I am always concerned that something unusual is going to happen. When I see a respiratory therapist present, boy my blood pressure goes down and my heart rate goes down,” said Heyliger-Thomas. “If that baby decides to turn colors, I know there’s somebody there that’s going to intubate. If the mother needs care, the respiratory therapist is there.”

Heyliger-Thomas said she’s known Armstead for about 40 years. They met through Heyliger-Thomas’ husband, who went to elementary school with Armstead in Guyana. She said she admires Armstead’s passion for respiratory therapy.

“I like Sharon because she cares. She truly, truly cares,” said Heyliger-Thomas. “If it means that she’s going to spend 24/7 just to make sure an issue that she sees is taken care of, she’s going to do it. She’s got what I call ‘Stick to It-ness.’”

Xiomara Ojeda, one of the students who went to Guyana with Armstead, shared a similar sentiment. Ojeda has known Armstead for two years and said she loves learning from her.

“She just has a lot of passion for what she does, and it’s contagious,” said Ojeda. “She loves helping people and she’s really good at it. You want to learn from her because she just knows so much and she just loves it.”

Texas State University lecturer Holly Wise brought the Texas State Global News Team, comprised of five mass communication students, to document Armstead and her students’ work in Guyana. The two first met in 2017 on a similar study abroad program to Nicaragua. Wise said Armstead shared her vision to bring the program to Guyana.

“She is consistent with her goals, and she’s very stubborn and relentless in bringing those goals to life,” said Wise. “I really respect that and admire that a lot.”

Wise, who knows how much Guyana means to Armstead, said seeing her in Guyana after a year and a half of talking about it was a gift. She said a special moment was seeing Armstead speak to students at Mackenzie High School, where Armstead’s dad used to be the principal.

Sharon Armstead (right) gave a speech at Mackenzie High School, where he dad used to be principal. Behind her are her respiratory therapy students. From left to right: Amber Hazlett, Jennifer Cruz, Stephanie Kelley, Xiomara Ojeda, Jacki Brewer and Bobby Shane Rodgers. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

“That was very emotional because I was up on stage, and I thought, ‘I left here as a student. Now I’m back, as a professor, with my own students.’ I just couldn’t place it,” Armstead said.

She said she called her parents, who still live in Canada, while she was in Guyana to tell them about the trip.

“What’s emotional is, every time I call them, you can hear the regret that they can’t come home because of health,” said Armstead. “[Daddy] knew I was going to be in Guyana that weekend, and he was waiting by the phone with a nurse so he could make sure he got the phone call.”

Armstead, who plans to go back to Guyana in May or June for another mission trip, said, “I make it a point to go back every year.”

Texas State University student first in family to graduate from college

By Skyler Jennings

SAN MARCOS, TX – Texas State University senior Xiomara Ojeda, a first-generation American who will be the first in her family to graduate college, has wanted to work in healthcare her entire life.

Xiomara Ojeda, from Austin, originally chose to attend Texas State for its nursing program. Once there, she discovered its respiratory care program and decided to change her career path.

In January 2018, Xiomara Ojeda took her knowledge and passion for respiratory therapy to Guyana on a study abroad program. Sharon Armstead, clinical associate professor at Texas State, led the program in conjunction with Bridges Global Medical Missions. It was the university’s first respiratory care study abroad program.

Xiomara Ojeda prepares to suction secretions from a patient’s airway in Georgetown Public Hospital. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

While there, she worked in Georgetown Public Hospital and the Linden Hospital Complex alongside doctors and nurses. She and four other Texas State respiratory care students assisted when needed, educated staff on respiratory therapy and learned what it was like to work in another country.

“[Guyana is] so different but I feel like we just have more things to get our people healthier,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I’m more grateful for the things that we have [here]. Things that we took for granted. It opened my eyes that we’re very lucky here.”

When working alongside Cuban doctors in Guyana, Xiomara Ojeda sometimes spoke with them in Spanish, her first language. She said it’s not new for her to speak Spanish while working. When she’s working in Austin, she said she will often talk with patients in Spanish so they feel more comfortable.

She learned Spanish at home from her parents who emigrated from El Salvador and Mexico. Xiomara Ojeda said they also taught her to work hard for what she wants.

“My parents always told us, ‘You have to work hard and get an education so you don’t do hard labor like [we’ve] had to,’” said Xiomara Ojeda. “They’ve always said, ‘Go to school, get a degree, do something that you love and you don’t work a day in your life.’ I’ve always wanted to make them proud.”

Xiomara Ojeda educates nursing students at Georgetown Public Hospital on how to use an Aerobika OPEP Device. The device helps clear mucus from airways. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

Xiomara Ojeda’s interest in healthcare started as a child, because she frequented hospitals.

“I was actually born with spina bifida so I had to go to doctor appointments every year,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I had to go to the hospital and get regular checkups. I would get ultrasounds and X-rays and stuff like that on my back. I grew up around [healthcare]. I fell in love with medicine. I wasn’t scared of it; it didn’t freak me out.”

Ramon Ojeda, Xiomara Ojeda’s younger brother, said he had first-hand experience of her natural pull to healthcare when they were kids. Xiomara Ojeda, 10, nursed Ramon Ojeda, 6, back to health after a hot iron fell on Ramon Ojeda’s head.

“It was on the weekend and both my parents were gone,” said Ramon Ojeda. “I was screaming, and the first thing I remember is my sister [putting] me on a bed. My head was bleeding and she put towels on my head. It was in her nature to take care of people.”

Xiomara Ojeda used supplies she knew were in the house because her mom had worked in the emergency room, transporting patients to different floors.

“My mom used to work at a hospital, and she had a bunch of gauze and medical stuff,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I started taking the gauze and antibiotics and stuff like that [for Ramon’s head]. I wasn’t scared to deal with blood. I’ve never been scared to deal with blood.”

This spring, Xiomara Ojeda will graduate from Texas State University with a degree in respiratory care. She will be the first in her family to earn a degree, and has been on the dean’s list six semesters.

Xiomara Ojeda uses her stethoscope to check if a patient has any secretions, and discovers he has a lot. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

Sharon Armstead, the director of clinical education at Texas State University, lead the team of respiratory care students in Guyana. Armstead said she’s proud of Xiomara Ojeda’s success.

“Xiomara overcame many odds to be where she is today,” said Armstead. “If you know spina bifida…the fact that she’s overcome that, to graduate, to do all of this on her own and she’s a woman…I think that speaks volumes to her strength of character.”

Ramon Ojeda, a freshman at Texas State University, said seeing his sister on the path to graduate college is a driving factor for himself. He said he remembers Xiomara Ojeda’s first semester of college didn’t go as she planned, but she came out on top.

“She was about to give up and then she got her stuff together,” said Ramon Ojeda. “She showed me what she did…all of this stuff about how to improve. It’s definitely something that helps me; it’s helping me now.”

Xiomara Ojeda is finishing up her last semester of college while working in the adult intensive care unit at Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin. After she graduates and passes her board examination, she will be a registered respiratory therapist. She said she isn’t certain where she’ll end up working.

“I really wanted to do adult [care] for a really long time, but I did my internship at Dell Children’s [in Austin] and I just fell in love with working with kids,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, but I’m really highly considering that that’s what I want to do. I really loved working with kids.”

Guyana: Home Away From Home

As we all stood in a clustered group at the American Airlines terminal awaiting the last of our study abroad group members to arrive to the San Antonio International Airport, I glanced around and questioned: How will I relate to my peers in the program and where will we feel most comfortable in Guyana?

The introvert in me began to get anxious as I thought about how I would be spending the next 11 days with a group of people I barely knew in an unfamiliar place. I thought back to my reasoning for signing up for this study abroad trip and told myself that if I wanted to experience something new, I would need to find comfort in being uncomfortable.

After a few days of working in Georgetown Public Hospital and sitting window-side during our drives in Georgetown, Guyana, it was nice to take in the view as we passed by the same buildings, shops and seawall every day.

Through our interactions with the locals, we were always greeted with welcoming smiles and open arms. The growing familiarity of our surroundings in Georgetown and the hospitality of the Guyanese people made me feel more comfortable with being abroad.

Our group of mass communication students would get together any chance we had to tell each other our stories of the day. I enjoyed the times we stayed up late talking and the night we decided to stay in and make spaghetti for dinner. By sharing these similar experiences with each other during our study abroad trip, it brought our group closer together.

Throughout the duration of our trip, we also began to learn more about each other – our childhood, our fears, our goals, and much more. I found that I began to feel a sense of belonging with the group of people I once considered strangers.

Never did I think it would be possible to feel this close to a group of people in this short amount of time. As I reflect on our study abroad trip to Guyana, I am grateful for the many friendships that were made on this trip and I could not have asked for a better experience. Together, we created a home away from home in Guyana.

Texas State University Global News Team members, Alana Zamora, Skyler Jennings, Ashley Skinner, Katie Burrell and Lindsey Blisard (left to right) with Lecturer Holly Wise (far left). Photo by Denroy Tudor.

Blisard: I won’t forget the people I met

By Lindsey Blisard

When I left for my study abroad trip to Guyana, I did not know what to expect. I never would have thought that a week after coming home, I would long for returning back to the country at the next opportunity. While this has been my only mission-type trip abroad, it has had a great effect on me.

Meeting Guyanese people and learning about their lives touched me in ways that I have trouble even getting onto paper (…or keyboard). We saw how they lived, the jobs they worked and how resourceful and resilient they can be.

We met high schoolers that want so much for themselves and that were inspired by these college students from Texas. The fact that you have these people that have never met you before, yet are so enthralled by you just being there in front of them gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. Those feelings sank straight into my chest and I hope they stay there forever.

Two people I met have impacted me the most—Sharisee, a student at Mackenzie High School and a little boy whose name I never even learned.

Sharisee, a senior and future journalist, talked to another Texas State student and I about her life and what she does on a day-to-day basis.

When the school day came to an end, she didn’t want to leave our sides, and to be honest, I didn’t really want her to leave either. She talked to us about her plans for the future—college or maybe traveling the world—and I want every dream she has ever dreamed to come true. She will be something one day… I have never been more sure of a first impression of someone.

The little boy I met lived at the Sophia Care Centre in Georgetown. While we were there, we gave out toys, snacks, clothing and books to the kids.

I had a stack of books that I would hand out to every kid and every time I brought out a different set of books he would ask me for one.

While most of the children only barely had any interest in the books, he was set on collecting every single book that we had to give. I eventually began to sneak over to him and hand him every one that I had. The books varied in subject, from U.S. History to women in the Civil War and technology development.

Before we left the center, I went up to him and told him that I hope he reads every book I gave to him. He looked up at me with a missing-toothed-grin and told me that he would. I have the highest of hopes for the boy whose name I will never know.

Featured photo by Alana Zamora/Global News Team

How traveling to Guyana changed me as a student

By Katie Burrell

I went on a trip out of the U.S. with the goal that I would learn to be brave and independent.

Having only left the country once before on a family cruise to Mexico, I knew I was missing out. As a completely unseasoned traveler, my worldview was sculpted from growing up in North Texas, moving back and forth to Oklahoma and a couple days in the most touristy spot of Mexico.

However, as a journalism student, I’ve made it a priority to diversify my friendships, read stories by other people about other places and cultures and to always look at the planet with an open mind. This mantra, albeit harmless, was insufficient. Reading and listening to others’ ideas and experiences can keep a student keen, but now I know life is learned best when experienced firsthand.

So, I spent two weeks in Guyana with five of my peers from the mass communication department, and five students I had never met before from the College of Health Professions at Texas State. I flew on a plane for the first time, in the aisle seat of course, from San Antonio, Texas to Miami, Florida and a major layover later I was in Trinidad/Tobago then to Georgetown, Guyana.

I experienced so many firsts within those 24 hours-my first plane ride, my first-time on the other side of the U.S., my first time meeting some of my trip mates and my first time feeling completely elated knowing that I had no idea what the next few days of my life would look like.

We got off the Caribbean Airlines plane and immediately stepped foot on black pavement, surrounded by darkness, stars and humidity. Straight through customs, baggage in tow, we were through the small airport and welcomed by a camera crew. I talked to fellow journalists for a quick online segment that was posted the next day, and squished myself into a van for a bumpy, and what felt like forever ride to Project Dawn. We stayed at Project Dawn, a large hostile in Liliendaal, Guyana for the majority of our trip.

Project Dawn is where I made spaghetti one night because we were too exhausted to go out. It’s also where I learned to play gin rummy, met a Canadian anesthesiologist, ate countless meals of chicken and rice and learned the value of being far away from home sometimes.

I wanted to be a more adventurous student. I wanted to consider myself a brave traveler and well-rounded journalist and I hope I am still on my way to be all of those things. But what I really learned on this trip, following students around in hospitals, interviewing locals and hanging out with school children was that my whole life is not in Texas. I discovered that I felt most at home when up late at night discussing sources with my roommate, fighting off mosquitos in the Guyana interior and laughing too loudly in a bumpy van.

My trip to Guyana was not easy and each day presented a new challenge but with the help of my peers I felt at home because I was thriving as a student. I learned firsthand what it really means to be open minded to the world and to myself. The culture of Guyana bears its similarities to the U.S. but is overall so different, and I’ve learned to embrace that.


An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication