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Kurt Deschner

It’s something i envision being associated with throughout my life—not only providing aid but, more importantly, helping local health care personnel obtain the necessary knowledge and tools to take action.

Kurt Deschner ’11 traveled more than 2,300 miles from his home in British Columbia, Canada, to find a college that offered a great field lacrosse program and an outstanding premedicine program. When a broken hip in the preseason of his sophomore year sidelined his collegiate athletic career, Kurt didn’t let the injury sideline his connection with the sport. Instead, he redirected his energies to coaching young athletes in the Hershey (Pa.) Lacrosse Association to reach their potential.

In summer 2010, Kurt’s perseverance was tested as he volunteered alongside medical teams in Tanzania. He energetically confronted the heartbreaking impoverishment he found there to make a difference for those he encountered. And he concluded his African experience by taking on the challenge of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The story of Kurt’s journey to Africa began about a decade ago, when his father preceded him to the famed peak with the aid of an African guide. His father and the guide struck up an easy friendship. During their conversations, the guide spoke of his brother, Gosberth Baitwa, who co-founded the Orphans Foundation Fund (OFF)—a Tanzanian non-governmental organization that provides a home to children of parents who had died of AIDS—with U.S. physician, Dr. James Lace.

Having heard his father’s stories, Kurt was curious about life on the African continent and wanted to use his developing skills to serve the people there. “Through e-mail, I connected with Dr. Lace, who continues to go to Tanzania two or three times a year. I wrote that I’d love to come to the country and do whatever I could,” Kurt recalls. “Dr. Lace responded, ‘Grab some hand sanitizer—the hospital often runs out of water—and come on over.’ That one-sentence reply was enough to motivate me to buy a plane ticket.”

Kurt DeschnerDuring his six-week stay, Kurt served and observed at Mount Meru Hospital alongside Dr. Lace and the hospital’s staff. He also accompanied the physician to the bush to offer medical services to the Maasai tribe. With only the resources that Dr. Lace brought from the United States or those that he was able to obtain in the closest major city, Kurt and the others treated a range of illnesses. “In the Maasai village, there is no sanitation. They are a nomadic tribe that lives in cow-dung huts, sleeping on hides,” Kurt recalls. “The children hadn’t showered in four to five years. Thirteen-year-old girls were pregnant with their first babies in a society where it’s ideal for a man to accumulate five wives and 30 children during his lifetime. We conducted medical clinics and treated women, children and men for malaria, HIV, scabies, malnutrition, infections and worms. We also dealt with a lot of ear, eye and respiratory problems, which were the result of cooking over open fires in unventilated huts.”

Kurt was powerfully affected by the poverty he witnessed. And in the hospital’s neonatal unit, he faced a heart-wrenching moment as he watched a baby with hydrocephalus and spina bifida slowly die a preventable death. “In North America, women have access to nutrition that enables proper fetal development so maladies like this are less frequent. Furthermore, physicians can insert a shunt to empty fluid from the brain and greatly increase survival rates,” he explains. “It was horrible to be so helpless because of a lack of adequate vitamins and a simple medical device.”

After returning home, Kurt—with the support of his parents and in partnership with OFF—launched an effort that raised $7,000 for medical supplies and a water pump for one of the OFF orphanages he visited. “I really found a connection with the people in Tanzania and Dr. Lace. To witness and be involved in their work was an amazing experience,” he says. “It’s something I envision being associated with throughout my life—not only providing aid but, more importantly, helping local health care personnel obtain the necessary knowledge and tools to take action. This will allow them to create a long-term, sustainable improvement in their lives.”

Now in his final year at Elizabethtown, the biochemistry/premedicine major again is using his knowledge to serve a disadvantaged population through his involvement in a multi-year research project that is seeking to determine if the identification and treatment of sensory processing disorder in children with attachment issues improves their outcomes. In collaboration with his mentor, Associate Professor Tom Hagan, Kurt is establishing a low-cost and effective means to measure salivary cortisol stress hormone levels, specifically for pediatric patients, and helping validate the analytical method. The research project is being completed in collaboration with the Social Work and Occupational Therapy departments and with the support of a community agency.

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