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Veterinarians share knowledge, supplies with Haiti
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Service trips to India and Mongolia helped Dr. Lee Ann Berglund-Fosdick find her calling in life-traveling and helping others. After six or seven trips to Haiti, Berglund-Fosdick has never been happier.
Port-Au-Prince, Haiti — Service trips to India and Mongolia helped Dr. Lee Ann Berglund-Fosdick find her calling in life—traveling and helping others. And after six or seven trips to Haiti, Berglund-Fosdick has never been happier.
"I've found what I love," she says in February after returning from her latest trip.
Destroyed by an earthquake in January 2010, Haiti is still struggling to recover. But even before the earthquake, Berglund-Fosdick began helping Dr. Ken Schumann, a retired small-animal veterinarian from Wisconsin, to train vet agents in Haiti to better care for the animals.
Helping hands: Berglund-Fosdick teaches basic animal care to Haiti's farmers. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Lee Ann Berglund-Fosdick)
"Lee Ann is a great instructor," Schumann says, "and she is a lot of fun to have around."
Schumann discovered Haiti's need for veterinarians after his Rotary group adopted a city there 20 years ago. He shifted his focus to veterinary issues about eight years ago.
"The idea came from a vet agent friend, Volmar, in Haiti," Schumann explained.
Through the program, approximately 20 to 35 vet agents spend a week in the classroom and a week in the field.
"The vet techs had some training, but lacked equipment," Schumann says. "We initially took them stethoscopes, penlights, and thermometers."
The veterinarians from the United States volunteering in Schumann's group, like Berglund-Fosdick, taught the vet agents how to use the stethoscopes and what normal ranges were.
"Better livestock means better food for Haitians," Schumann says. "It also means some more income for vet agents. Once they had their certificate, farmers would recognize this and hire the agents to take care of their livestock."
On her most recent trip in February—an easy two-hour flight from Florida—Berglund-Fosdick spent almost three weeks working with nursing students and vet agents.
"We had the best students this trip," she says, adding her group took syringes, needles, dewormers, and surgery kits to donate to the Haitian vet agents.
Berglund-Fosdick has seen a change in animal care since the group began visiting Haiti, and spoke of a student she has taught three years in a row.
"This time I watched him sedate a cow, give an epidural and replace a prolapsed uterus," she says. "It made me cry. I definitely see a difference in the animals between my first pictures and now."
Berglund-Fosdick adds that a big part of her job is teaching the agents not to just treat the animals, but also to educate the farmers to prevent future problems.
"For centuries they have relied on animals, but they don't know how to take care of them," she says. "They put these big packs on poor little donkeys and horses, and they get big sores. There are also worms, ticks, and malnutrition. Most of the diseases and problems affecting these animals are preventable."
While she has always loved animals, thanks to visits to the family farm in Nebraska while growing up, it took her years to accept what she had known all along. "I always wanted to be a vet," she says.
With a bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Florida, her grades were not good enough for vet school. Instead she worked on a master's degree related to horse insemination, a doctorate in pharmacology, and post-doctoral work in neuroscience.
"After 18 years of graduate school, I decided I still wanted to be a vet," she says and applied to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.
It was during vet school that Berglund-Fosdick had her first chance to travel.
"I received a scholarship to travel and went with a Christian Veterinary Mission group to Mongolia for four weeks."
As a goat artificial insemination expert, she focused on that while in the field. She also tested animals for brucellosis which can cause abortions, she says.
She returned to vet school, graduated, and a year later headed to India for four weeks.
"I had received an NIH grant and had to do service projects as part of paying back the grant," she says. "I helped missionaries with their farm on that trip."
As for future trips to Haiti, Schumann says they may be close to finishing their work there.
"When we started, there were only a handful of veterinarians in Haiti," he says. "Then a couple years ago, the government decided to send 25 Haitians—each year for three to five years—to Cuba to study to become veterinarians. They began coming back about three years ago. I'm not sure what will happen now."
If there is another trip, Berglund-Fosdick plans to be part of it.
"I get a lot of satisfaction in doing this," she says. "The way I see it, it takes $100 a year to educate a child in Haiti. They also get $100 to sell a calf. I feel that if I save a calf, I've helped to educate a child."