Nursing Notes: Articles

Graduate Saves Children With Life-Giving Water

The statistics from the World Health Organization are tragic: Approximately 9,000 children worldwide die daily from diarrhea or diarrhea-related diseases, and 80 percent of these children live in Southeast Asia.

Because she believes that God’s heart is for his people worldwide, LaRelle Catherman, M.N. ’96, uses her skills as a nurse to help the at-risk children of Vietnam.

“God allowed me to see a people group who were in dire need of health and hygiene education, and safe drinking water,” she says. The revelation came to her when, while studying for her master’s degree in nursing at SPU, she traveled to Central Vietnam with colleagues to provide health care and classes at a hospital.

When the hospital director came to the U.S. for two months to study hospital administration, he guest-lectured at SPU and lived with LaRelle and her husband, Robert. The visitor asked his hostess to return to his country to research parental understanding of home treatment for diarrhea and why so many children died of the condition.

She returned to work alongside Vietnamese physicians and nurses, and to conduct many home visits. The research data indicated that most children suffered from diarrhea due to the lack of safe drinking water. Robert, “a meteorologist with an engineering mind,” accepted the challenge to find a method of providing that safe, clean water.

Together, the Cathermans founded MEDRIX (Medical, Educational, and Development of Resources Through International Exchange) and, in 2002, were granted official permission to operate in Vietnam. Today, volunteer physicians, nurses, health educators, water specialists, native English speakers, and others are joining MEDRIX to make a difference in Southeast Asia.

And Robert’s findings? He concluded that UV (ultraviolet) treatment to destroy harmful effects of bacteria is an affordable, fast, and practical way to ensure a clean source of water. The water treatment is especially effective and efficient in schools and health clinics where there are large concentrations of people.

MEDRIX and SPU’s School of Health Sciences provide a transcultural and community health study abroad program in Vietnam. Ten selected nursing students spend five to six weeks in the country. Half the time is spent doing clinical rounds in the pediatric department of a provincial hospital, and the other half is spent in mountainous villages working alongside Vietnamese nursing students providing community health education in health clinics and village homes.

Pictured above is 2008 SPU nursing graduate Ryan Sexton, educating preschool children in a mountainous village in Central Vietnam on the importance of washing hands with soap. The nonprofit MEDRIX also taps its American partners to send physicians, who can train local Vietnamese doctors to provide improved health care to their patients.

“Never underestimate the small decisions you make every day," says LaRelle, who urges those interested in more information to check out "Don’t wait for a large global opportunity to do something big for the world. The little daily decisions become the defining moments of one’s life.”

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