Bridge Collapse Uses Team’s Medical, Counseling Skills

Schools of Nursing, Social Work Spend Spring Break in India

By: Martin Surridge

Spring Townshend, a senior nursing major at WWU's Portland campus, along with a number of other WWU nursing and social work students, felt it was a privilege to offer medical care to students in India for the second year.

During spring break last month, Walla Walla University’s India Immunizations volunteers embarked on their second journey in two years to the Asian subcontinent as part of a continued effort to administer inoculations, teach health classes, and to conduct religious programming for children at Riverside Adventist Academy in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya.

Medical personnel, faculty, and students from the WWU schools of nursing and social work traveled to India, and despite the success of vaccinating well over 3,200 people, the trip will also be remembered for the disastrous collapse of a suspension footbridge over Didram River near the academy. The bridge collapse resulted in 39 Indian students and two WWU students suffering considerable injuries.

Marissa Staten, a 2011 graduate of the WWU School of Nursing, broke her back in the accident, but is recovering at her home after receiving treatment for three fractured vertebrae. Her husband, Trevor, who is a current student in the same department and has since returned to classes, suffered two compression fractures in his back.

Rosemarie Buck Khng, assistant professor of nursing and organizer of the India Immunizations mission project, praised the group response in the face of such a catastrophe. “They responded with great teamwork and performed admirably in the face of the daunting task of evaluating and triaging 40 injured people,” Buck Khng said. “They provided excellent physical and emotional care for the injured, as well as supportive care for the students and staff in the aftermath of the disaster.”

A local inquiry revealed that academy principal has been held responsible for the collapse of the structure, which fell when approximately 70 people were walking across it, despite the fact that the bridge had a maximum weighty capacity of only 30 pedestrians. The principal had the bridge built in July 2011 to improve access to the school in Chichotcheng.

Spring Townshend, a senior nursing major from Portland, Ore., volunteered with India Immunizations for the second year in a row. She explained that while the bridge collapse created tremendous problems, the team was able to accomplish a lot and provide services they had spent years training for. “Even with all the devastation and setbacks of the bridge collapse,” Townshend began, “the team pulled together as a solid unit and worked so well. This trip in particular was one where we were able to see God at work.” 

Townshend continued: “In spite of it all, we were able to complete our mission of immunizations in a shorter amount of time than what was allotted. We were able to use our nursing skills in a way we haven't used them before: We provided comfort and support to the children and staff of the school, and we were able to build relationships with the people that will go way beyond the week were there.”

 

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