BYU Undergrads Launch Non-Profit Healthcare Service for Native Americans
Jordan Jones is an Exercise Science major, and part of a group of undergraduate students at Brigham Young University who are passionate about healthcare and disease prevention for Native Americans. With the support of Dr. Rodney Badger, a practicing cardiologist in Elko, NV, the group kick-started a volunteer healthcare program, Western Reperfusion (reperfusion refers to the return of blood to tissues). The program’s mission is to provide free Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) education and screening to Native American reservation communities in the Intermountain Region. Jordan and his team are mentored by physicians and BYU professors who are passionate about caring for the health of the Natives within these historically marginalized communities.
After developing an efficient way to screen patients for the disease (PAD), Jordan and Dr. Badger selected the Native American population as the demographic with the greatest need for a screening service. According to Dr. Badger, Native Americans have the highest prevalence for diabetes of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States (over sixteen percent of this population has been diagnosed). Subsequently, the Western Reperfusion program was launched, which currently consists of ten BYU undergraduates, all of which are volunteers.
While serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jordan lived on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona called Inscription House ("Ts'ah Bii Kin" in Navajo). He fell in love with the Navajo culture and lifestyle: rodeo, sports, pinon picking, chopping firewood, talking story, and eating warm fry bread next to a wood stove to stay warm during winter months. Naturally, Jordan was ecstatic for the opportunity to again reach out to the reservations. Team member Marlee Mason (Mesa, AZ), a pre-med student, speaks highly of the opportunities to serve the underprivileged that involvement with Western Reperfusion has provided her. Marlee is responsible for creating PAD education materials, which are given to each screened patient. She also designs the newsletters and takes care of the program’s photography for their upcoming website. Western Reperfusion distributes the newsletter to IHS clinics with the goal of spreading awareness about the program to potential partners and surrounding health clinics to the reservations. Marlee is excited to soon be participating in the actual screening, but meanwhile, the most rewarding part of this experience for her has been being able to serve her Native friends. It is no secret that Native Americans have previously been underserved in healthcare, and Marlee is driven to find people who are unaware of the difficult repercussions of PAD and to help them increase their quality of life by catching it early, thus providing long-term improvements to their daily lives. Marlee and Jordan are guiding their team on a mission to increase communication and treatment for PAD by making Western Reperfusion a long-standing program that delivers both education and screening to these frequently underserved communities.
Since launching the organization, the team has only performed one official screening trip, so the process of screening is still fairly new for everyone. In December of 2018, the team traveled to the Moapa River Indian Reservation of Nevada Paiute Indians to conduct the first screening, where nine of twenty-five screened patients were diagnosed with severe PAD progression. The team has plans to return to Moapa this month to follow-up with the diagnosed patients and accurately record their proper treatment. While networking is still in the process, the action plan is to provide each patient with a sheet that will include exact steps for treatment and contact information with instructions to set an appointment at a local clinic. The ultimate goal is for Western Reperfusion team members to build rapport with vascular surgeons and cardiologists in the surrounding areas, who have treatment plans for PAD, and refer the diagnosed patients to the nearest specialists.
Jordan explains PAD and the process of diagnosis in further detail: PAD is a disease in which narrow arteries reduce blood flow to limbs, especially the lower extremities. The main cause is atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), but despite the asymptomatic nature of the disease, afflicted persons most frequently experience ache and pain in their limbs. Western Reperfusion contacts clinics with Indian Health Services (IHS) and offers free PAD screenings by using a device that calculates the ankle brachial index (ABI), which is interpreted and used to yield test results. Jordan describes the screenings as non-invasive; the patients lay supine for approximately ten minutes and team members place a blood flood sensor on the fingers and toes. The screening machine then outputs the ABI, the ratio between systolic pressure of the ankle over the systolic pressure of the arms. The ABI value is then compared to a qualitative chart that tells the patient’s condition level. Team members inform the patient of results while also explaining PAD and the risk factors.
Simple awareness is Marlee’s suggestion for the best way that the community can best support Western Reperfusion, “PAD isn’t a mainstream chronic disease, so, other than funding, the biggest need right now is to spread the word. If anyone has friends or family who are part of a Native population, let them know that this service is free and to contact Western Reperfusion.” A program website is to be launched this semester; until that time, the main point of contact is via email to Jordan: firstname.lastname@example.org. The program is greatly appreciative of any supportive funding, which is available through their gofundme account.