All posts by Skyler Kidd Jennings

Senior at Texas State University majoring in journalism and minoring in honor's studies.

Texas State University students learn about respiratory illnesses in Guyana

By Skyler Jennings

LINDEN, GUYANA – Texas State University respiratory care students learned about respiratory illnesses and how the staff treats them in the pediatric ward Jan. 9 at Linden Hospital Complex .

Dr. Michella Ross, the general medical officer of Linden Hospital Complex, gave a presentation to the nursing staff of the pediatric ward, providing general information about respiratory illnesses . The Texas State University students, who were working at the hospital while on a study abroad program, sat in for the presentation.

Dr. Michella Ross, general medical officer of Linden Hospital Complex, giving her presentation to the pediatric nursing staff. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

Ross gave a UK-based statistic about pediatric patients: a preschool-aged child will have six to eight illnesses in one year. She also gave a statistic about Linden Hospital Complex: ninety percent of the children the hospital sees will have a viral infection.

“We put a lot of emphasis on [respiratory illness],” she said. “One of the main reasons is that it’s responsible for at least 50 percent of the consultations they have in pediatrics…or just in outpatient. Most of the kids, they always come with a cold, cough, something, always respiratory. So even if you have 10 kids in a day, you’ll find at least seven will be a respiratory related condition.”

Less than an hour before her presentation, a four-month-old child was discharged from the hospital after spending five days there with bronchiolitis. This lung infection is usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus.

“As simple as bronchiolitis is, it’s one of the most life-threatening illnesses among infants,” said Ross. “[RSV] is the most common virus, and especially with bronchiolitis. Most of the kids that come with bronchiolitis, is caused by this RSV.”

Ross said the pediatric ward is usually filled in the winter, because that’s when viruses thrive in Linden.

Yarlemis Alicia Estevéz, a pediatrician consultant at Linden Hospital Complex, said the pediatric ward has sixteen or seventeen beds.

“For some periods, [there’s] plenty of patients,” said Estevéz. “For the last month, December and November, [there have been] plenty of patients.”

Yarlemis Alicia Estevéz Palomino (left), a pediatrician consultant at the Linden Hospital Complex, shows respiratory care student Stephanie Kelley (right) an X-ray of the lungs of the four-month-old patient with bronchiolitis. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

Xiomara Ojeda, one of the Texas State respiratory care students who attended the presentation, said she thinks this is comparable to the U.S.

“Before I went on the Guyana trip, I was doing my internship at Dell Children’s so I was dealing with all these kids,” said Ojeda. “I know that during the winter time, there’s a lot of kids…who have some sort of respiratory problem. They either have like the flu, or they have the RSV or they have stuff that does affect their breathing.”

After hearing Ross briefly discuss how the hospital staff treats patients with respiratory illnesses, Bobby Shane Rodgers, also a Texas State respiratory care student, asked about specific equipment used to treat patients with secretions in the lungs.

He said he learned that the hospital didn’t have some equipment that he would say is common in the U.S.

“I believe they used humidity, which we would use over here, and then they didn’t have any of the other equipment that we would use to help bring up the secretions,” said Rodgers. “Their emergency room was pretty poorly stocked with equipment, especially respiratory equipment.”

Ojeda said she saw a difference in the way the Linden Hospital Complex pediatric ward was laid out compared to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Texas.

“They had four kids in one room, which is something that we would never see [in the US] because of HIPPA violations,” said Ojeda. “[In the US], all the kids have their own room and have their privacy. [Linden] felt more like a dorm-type situation, as opposed to a hospital. Some of them were [in] bunkbeds.”

Rodgers said it was eye opening to learn that some countries have less to work with, but he knows they are still trying to achieve the same end goal: healthy patients.

“I learned that they treat patients with a fraction of the equipment that we have, but they still generally have a good outcome,” said Rodgers. “Patients seem to get well and go home from the hospital and they do it with a lot less. [I learned that] you can improvise and [treat patients] with less equipment, but still help others.”


My surrogate mother(s) in Guyana

By Skyler Jennings

When I first found out I was accepted onto the Texas State Global News Team and was going to Guyana my first thoughts revolved around shear happiness and excitement.

My second thoughts?

I’m leaving the country for twelve days without my mom?!

I put on my big girl pants and pretended I could handle this, that people have gone farther and longer without being by their mom 24/7, because I wanted so much to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It soon became clear that I hadn’t so much left a mom behind as I had gained two surrogate moms (whether they intended it or not).

My first surrogate mom was my instructor Holly Lynn Wise.

Holly Lynn Wise on Fort Island in Guyana. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

I first took her class in spring 2017, and that’s when she changed me as a journalist. She taught me about the confidence needed to be a journalist. She’s 100 percent the reason I put my big girl pants on and pretended I could handle this – because she believed in me.

In Guyana, she took on a role of more than just a mentor.

She was the one who asked me how I was feeling because she knew I had caught a bug. She’s the one who carried around Advil for me, who ran upstairs at the last minute before the van rolled out for the day to grab medicine for me.

When my imaginary big girl pants had fallen down and I was feeling unsure of myself as a journalist, she approached me every few minutes and coaxed me until I pulled them right back up.

When the days were long and our stomaches were rumbling, she would pull out a bag of trail mix to hold us over. When we needed an ‘American night’ in, she grabbed spaghetti and garlic bread ingredients to help our homesickness.

She was there for me, with me, when I faced my fear of heights and conquered the clocktower in Stabroek Market.

She was so important to the stability I needed while I was miles away from my biological mom.

My other surrogate mom, Sharon Armstead, I didn’t meet until the pre-departure meetings got into full swing in fall 2017. I fully experienced the Armstead love on one of our recreation days in Guyana.

Sharon Armstead in the speedboat on the Demerara River. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

We were on a small speedboat, filled to capacity with roughly 20 people. I’d never been afraid of boat rides, in fact I’d always enjoyed them, and I did for the ride out to Baganara Island Resort.

The speedboat we took. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

On the ride back, however, the tide in the Demerara River had changed and the boat ride became one of horror for me. I was sat in the second row, meaning the ride for me was bumpier than it was for most. I was silently trying to conceal my panic attack, embarrassed beyond belief.

Nothing could get by Sharon, who was sat in the first row and caught sight of my silent tears.

Without hesitation, she immediately turned in her seat and grabbed my hand. She leaned in to keep our moment private, and whispered reassuring words in my ear.

She hugged me. She held my hand. She whispered to me. She shared her own experience on this river a year prior that was similar to mine.

For twenty minutes she did this, until we had to stop the boat at an island to get gas and I assured her I was calmed down.

That day, without her love, would have been one I looked back on with pain.

Now, I look back on it with so much happiness in my heart because I know she was there to make sure I was ok, not only because my biological mom couldn’t, but because she truly cared.

Sharon and Holly, my forever surrogate moms: thank you, for so much more than you will ever realize.



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.”

What Guyana taught me about my fears

It’s Jan. 6 and we’re exploring Stabroek Market in Georgetown. I’m following our group, lead by Denroy Tudor who works for the Ministry of Public Health, taking in the crowded and packed market. It soon becomes clear that Tudor is working on gaining us access to the clock tower that stands high above the market.

The first tiny, winding and hole-filled staircase.

In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what an experience! We’re going to get to do something that not even all the locals do.’ 

It never occurred to me, that we would have to climb to the top …

… on winding staircases that aren’t completely closed off…

…that you can see straight through.

Back in Texas, my mom can’t even get me up more than one ladder step because of my fear of heights. Now, here in Guyana, I’m hurriedly following my group and trying not to get lost in the throng of people and products.

Before I know it, before I can process it, I’m ascending the steps.

I grip the handrail as my heart pounds against my chest and I’m trying to keep my emotions in control.

Looking down at the market from the halfway point.

‘I want my mom. Right now. I need her,’ plays on repeat in my mind.

I make it half way, I’m told.

There’s only one more winding staircase between me and the top of this clock tower. I mindlessly trudge on, determined to take step after step and only think about that.

I can’t turn around, not really, because there’s the rest of my group behind me on this tiny, winding, hole-filled staircase. I shift my gaze from the market below me when sunlight begins to infiltrate my peripheral vision.

I emerge onto a patio of sorts, with a 360-degree view of the market. Bright buildings, cars and umbrellas are visible in every direction, except for the side with a gorgeous view of the Demerara River.

View from the top of the clock tower.

For a moment, I forget about the internal struggle I faced to get myself up the clock tower. I forget about the fact that I will have to go back down the tiny, winding, hole-filled staircases.

I look around at the city that has been my home for the past four days. The city that has welcomed me with open arms. This beautiful city filled with beautiful souls.

Before I came to Guyana, I was filled with so much anxiety about being away from my mom, my lack of respiratory therapy knowledge and my skills as a reporter.

As I’m staring at the people and cars below me, I’m also taking in the people surrounding me. My instructor who brought me here, my teammates who never fail to make me laugh and the respiratory therapy students who happily teach me about their work.

I’m realizing that I have it within myself to try new things, to accomplish things no matter how much they scare me. And, just as importantly, I have people in my life to help me along the way.

I go down the stairs with an adrenaline high. I don’t see the holes below me, I don’t trip over myself as much on the tiny steps and this time…

…there’s a smile on my face.

Me smiling on top of the clock tower. Photo by Holly Wise/Global News Team.

Photos by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team

Texas State students visit child care center in Guyana

Students from Texas State University brought donations to Sophia Care Center Jan. 12 in Georgetown, Guyana, with Bridges Global Medical Missions.

Claudette Heyliger-Thomas, medical director of Bridges Global Medical Missions, first visited Sophia Care Center in September 2016 to administer general medical examinations on the children.

After seeing some of the center’s other needs, she decided to go back in January 2018. Along with donations, she brought with her 10 Texas State students who had been in Guyana for two weeks working with Bridges in a study abroad program.

Heyliger-Thomas made 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the center with the help of Texas State students.

Marilyn Ferley-Thompson [left] and Heyliger-Thomas [right] collected donations from family, friends and various organizations starting last year. Ferley-Thompson, who works for Bridges, said they chose to work with Sophia Care Center after learning it housed the largest number of kids [97] in Guyana, based on data provided by the Ministry of Public Health.
[From left to right] Katie Burrell, Xiomara Ojeda and Jennifer Cruz helped Heyliger-Thomas [not pictured] make sandwiches. Burrell is a journalism student and Ojeda and Cruz are respiratory therapy students.
[From left to right] Stephanie Kelley lead Jennifer Cruz and Jacki Brewer as they transported donations to Sophia Care Center. Donations brought included a toothbrush, lip balm and toy for every child.
Amber Hazelett [left] and Bobby Shane [right] hung up shower curtains in the center’s bathrooms. Shower curtains were one of the needs Heyliger-Thomas and Ferley-Thompson noticed on their last visit in Sep. 2016.

Xiomara Ojeda helped with the hanging of 12 curtains, six in each bathroom. The students used zip ties to hang the curtains, as the shower rods were too thick for the rings supplied in the kit. Below is a time lapse of Jennifer Cruz showing how students hung the shower curtains.
The students [pictured in yellow or blue Bridges Global Medical Missions shirts] and mass communication lecturer Holly Wise [in yellow] passed out sandwiches and drinks to the children. Staff were able to keep leftover sandwiches for another day.
Wise helped Heyliger-Thomas and students pass out toys to the children. Children were allowed to pick out one toy each, with crayons as the most requested item.

[From left to right, in blue or yellow] Bobby Shane, Ashley Skinner and Katie Burrell hand out Bridges Global Medical Missions tote bags with a toothbrush and lip balm to every child in Sophia Care Center. The beach balls around the room were brought by Bridges and blown up by the Texas State students. A child at Sophia Care Center then hung them up around the room for decoration before they came down at the end of the day as gifts.
The Texas State team left Guyana the following day, returning to Texas to start their spring 2018 semester.

Photos and videos by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.