7-Year-Old Lena Takes Her First Steps in Greece

Mary McQuilkin

Mary is a primary care nurse practitioner with a Master's degree in public health. She is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer with experience in international disaster relief obtained during her service in Uganda.

In November, something amazing happened in the Team Rubicon clinic in Greece. A 7-year-old girl named Lena walked for the very first time. Lena was born with cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder and had previously been carried around like a baby or in a stroller, despite her age. When a Syrian physical therapist named Moyad started volunteering at the clinic, he took a special interest in her.

By working with Moyad, Lena was able to improve her balance, leg strength, and coordination. She practiced her physical therapy exercises every day and quickly progressed from not walking at all to walking up stairs with minimal assistance, walking down a hallway using a walker or crutches, and gaining independence in completing activities of daily living.

jenna-lamise-2
Lena is guided by registered nurse Jenna Brandolini.

Lena’s success demonstrates not only the resilience of this young girl to work daily on walking while living in a refugee camp and the value of Moyad’s work, but also the unique setting that allowed for the continuity of care needed to make this amazing progress happen.

Team Rubicon is doing something outside of their wheelhouse here in Greece. Rather than responding immediately following a disaster and providing emergency care for a short time, we have been operating a primary care clinic within a refugee camp for over six months.

By sending a Team Rubicon volunteer to go for a walk with Lena every day, we were able to maintain a daily presence in her life and support Lena in her progress. Because Moyad is able to volunteer in the clinic every weekend, he was able to tailor her physical therapy plan over time based on her progress, and reevaluate her needs periodically.

Lena walking with crutches under the supervision of TR volunteers in the clinic.
Lena walking with crutches under the supervision of Jenna while physical therapist Moyad observes.

Primary care shapes people’s lives not in one moment, but gradually over time. The ability to have an ongoing presence in the lives of residents here has been a unique opportunity for Team Rubicon volunteers. Operation Hermes has demonstrated another avenue for utilizing the skills of veterans, first responders, and healthcare professionals to improve the health of a community in need, while leaving a lasting impact on all of us who were able to serve.

Lena alongside physician assistant Cara Bosco.
Lena alongside physician assistant Cara Bosco.

Learn more about Operation Hermes or what it takes to serve abroad with Team Rubicon.