Faculty, students on community engagement trip abroad save woman’s life

Study Abroad

Faculty and students from Bellarmine University’s Athletic Training and Family Nurse Practitioner programs recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to help youth there with basic healthcare needs.   

In a surprise twist of fate, their services were needed even more so on the plane ride home when they were called to save a woman in a medical emergency.  

The trip was planned in collaboration with a Louisville-based nonprofit Go Ministries and its program, Go Sports, which offers academies in baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball.  

Three Bellarmine faculty members and five students spent a week in Santiago de los Caballeros, the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic, offering free sports physicals to some 100 young athletes, many of whom are hopeful to play collegiate sports in the U.S., but haven’t had consistent access to comprehensive healthcare.  

“We found a lot of pathology that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about, even from simple things like dental issues to more concerning things like a heart condition that could be potentially fatal,” said Leslie W. Leffler, Faculty Instructor in the Lansing School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences. “Our students learned so much from this experience and we were all humbled and honored to be able to use our skills and knowledge to provide these services.” 

Leffler said it was a truly immersive experience, as they were embedded in the community, working alongside locals. They also volunteered in some other ways, making home repairs and improvements in a nearby neighborhood.   

Another opportunity to serve surprised them all on the plane ride home. An elderly woman on the flight fell unconscious, in clear need of medical attention. Leffler and Dr. Carol Smith, Associate Professor of Nursing, were the most experienced healthcare professionals on the flight and immediately came to her aid. Dr. Chelsey Franz, Assistant Professor of Athletic Training, assisted as well.  

The trio moved the woman to first class where they could lay her down and assess her condition. 

“At one point her blood pressure was dropping, along with her heart rate, which was not good,” Leffler said. “It was a stressful moment.”  

They hooked her up to an I.V. and administered other treatments while the pilot diverted the flight to an emergency layover.  

Leffler said they aren’t certain what caused the woman’s condition, but with the help of a Spanish interpreter on the plane, they learned she had a history of cardiac problems, along with other health issues. Eventually, the plane landed, and the woman was transported to a hospital. 

“We were very grateful to be able to use our expertise to save that woman’s life,” Leffler said. “And what an experience for our students to see how important these skills are in real-life situations.”  

Leffler said the group is already planning a return trip next spring with another class of students. 

Check out a video detailing the group's trip experience here:


Photo caption: One of several houses painted by the Bellarmine community in La Mosca. 
Go Ministries missionaries: Jordy Liriano, Libbie Casey and John Martinez.
Faculty members: Leslie Leffler, Carol Smith and Chelsey Franz. 
Students: Piero Thol, Luke Baker, Michelle Witt, Rachel Jefferson, and Abbi Smothers.
Family of Bellarmine faculty: Rodney Leffler, Allison Ebelhar, Addi Franz and Gwynnie Frannz.  

Tags: FNP , Nursing , Sports Administration , Study Abroad

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Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.