By Rebecca Moran
Photo Credits: 2016 Operation Small Steps Team
Two Penn State Altoona nursing students were given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel abroad and gain firsthand experiences in the field of nursing. Last spring, founders of Operation Small Steps, Dr. Jack and Kari-Ann Rocco, initiated a search at Penn State Altoona for students to travel alongside medical staff for the organization’s July 2016 trip to Madagascar.
Operation Small Steps (OSS) is a non-profit medical organization focused on raising awareness of and treating clubfoot and other orthopedic conditions in underserved areas around the globe. Conditions that are routinely and effectively treated in the United States are regularly neglected in developing countries, resulting in devastating and unnecessary disability. OSS partners with national and global experts in the field of pediatric orthopedics and clubfoot treatment to alleviate suffering and enrich the quality of life for those afflicted with this debilitating condition.
In order to be eligible, a student had to be enrolled in the second degree nursing program at Penn State Altoona and submit an application which included a project proposal detailing a problem that he/she planned to address while abroad and how the plan would be implemented in Madagascar, even after the medical mission trip ended. Dr. Rocco and Kari-Ann were among the committee members who selected the two students, Shanon Creighton and Ariel Lyons.
“It was really great to work with Ariel and Shanon,” said Dr. Rocco, co-founder of OSS. “Their enthusiasm and professionalism were incredible assets to the team. The nursing faculty was also fantastic in helping to make this program possible. Together, we were able to provide the students with this amazing experience and in turn help our program accomplish its goals. It truly was a perfect symbiotic relationship.”
OSS partnered with another non-profit organization from the United States, Echoes of Madagascar, for the July trip. Echoes of Madagascar is committed to establishing communities based on family self-sufficiency, cooperation, support and mutual trust among them. In 2014, the two organizations launched the Madagascar Sustainable Clubfoot Initiative Program to raise awareness of clubfoot and other prevalent orthopedic issues that people in the Madagascar region, especially children, encounter. The groups work in collaboration with local clinics, hospitals, and communities.
Two physicians from Sweden’s renowned Karolinska University Hosptial also accompanied the OSS team for a successful mission—Eva Pontén, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, and Sahar Nejat, M.D., from the Department of Pediatrics. OSS is hopeful that opportunities for collaboration with Karolinska Institutet will continue to develop. Karolinska Institutet is one of the largest and most respected medical research universities in the world. Since 1901, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has selected the Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine.
Dr. Rocco remarked, “OSS was fortunate to have brought along Dr. Eva Pontén and Dr. Sahar Nejat. They were a fantastic addition to the program and a great source of international exchange and professional enrichment. They were both the highest level of colleagues for us to share the experience with, adding further depth and interest to the program for everyone involved.”
Dr. Rocco is an orthopedic surgeon with UPMC Altoona Elite Orthopaedics. As founders of OSS, Dr. Rocco and Kari-Ann travel abroad for mission trips to Madagascar to raise awareness and provide medical treatment for clubfoot and other orthopedic conditions. Local fundraising efforts, like the annual Rocctoberfest in Altoona, help support Operation Small Steps and its worldwide efforts.
The student trip was funded through the philanthropic support of Dr. Jack and Kari-Ann Rocco and C. Hope Poindexter, a 1972 graduate of Penn State’s College of Nursing and former Penn State Altoona student.