Pat Blanco joined us for the first half of the Pacific Partnership mission’s Rotation 1 in Fiji. When I greeted her on the USNS Mercy, I was excited to discover that she was one of the original Project HOPE nurses. At 25 years old, Pat was doing field work in Mexico for her Master’s degree in family planning at the University of Hawaii when she was approached by a classmate working as a project manager for Project HOPE who was in dire need of a public health educator for children in Cartagena, Colombia. The rest is history! Pat went to Columbia and worked from January 1969 through April 1971 as an integrated member of the community, educating the people there about important health issues and training new nurses to fulfill their best potential.
When she started with HOPE, Pat worked on land-based missions. So, this time around, living on not just a ship, but a naval hospital ship, was certainly an adjustment. These health professionals live in accordance with Navy rules and regulations. This means that they experience early mornings, military jargon, and aspects of the mission they would otherwise most likely never have the opportunity to see, like various Navy traditions and flying helicopters to remote villages to work with Army and Navy officers and the local people.
This year, Pat arrived in Suva, Fiji, excited to work with Project HOPE once again and return to her roots as a community educator. Pat spent her days on the mission at community health fairs and engagements and in meetings with the Fijian Ministry of Health. When asked if she had any significant encounters with patients, she said each person she met with was memorable. But Pat noted the significance of two women in particular to whom she had taught breast self-exams.
"I spoke with two women who had both found lumps in their breasts and hadn't done anything about it. It mind-boggled me," Pat said. "I told them they need to go to the doctor in Savusavu today and explained that the longer you wait, the bigger it will get. They promised they were going to the doctor immediately."
In addition to her work as a nurse, Pat is a Weight Watchers instructor in Florida. She noted that high blood pressure and diabetes are both serious issues in Fiji, so she spoke with a nurse about how to prevent these diseases by implementing proper weight control. She also talked with the Fijian nurses about how to start a similar program in Savusavu to educate women on a healthy diet.
“Many people have a terrible fear of the hospital,” said Pat. “So I suggested to them that if they have nutrition and exercise classes and fun options at the hospital, there would be a more positive association with the hospital and more opportunities for sufficient medical care. People could come to the hospital and leave with a positive attitude, and the culture of living in mortal fear of going to the hospital could eventually change. I thought that was really rewarding."
The nurses Pat spoke with were very excited by her ideas and intend on starting a program at their hospital.
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