Larisa Bogdan of Lynbrook didn’t really break the mold when she told her parents she wanted to go some place tropical to celebrate her 21st birthday -- until she said where and why.
Bogdan was part of a Quinnipiac University humanitarian mission to Nicaragua the first week of January, as the physical and occupational therapy students brought medical care to impoverished citizens. Bogdan, who's majoring in occupational therapy, first heard about the trip during a class on international health and knew instantly she had to go.
“I felt that I needed to give back and just go for it,” she said.
Bogdan’s career choice means helping people who have disabilities improve their performance of everyday activities. During her time in Nicaragua, Bogdan and her team found ways to help people using methods that scream “MacGyver.”
The crew lugged two 75- to 100-pound cement columns nearly half a mile to make a step for a woman who was having problems with her feet. Her condition prevented her from taking strides long enough to get into her elevated house.
“That’s very OT,” Bodgan said, the abbreviation representing her major. “Taking what you have, adapting it and making it suitable.”
The team also traveled to the Nicaraguan city of La Ceiba, where they came upon Kenner, 4, a boy who was malnourished. His condition forced him to lie flat, limiting the types of foods he could eat. Constrained by their schedule but inspired by the boy’s plight, the team created a specialized chair for the boy after they left La Ceiba. They booked a return trip to La Ceiba three days later to give him the chair, which is made of cardboard and holds him upright to eat. That day is what Bodgan holds most special.
“The day we went back, it was my birthday,” she said. “I got the best gift because we were able to give this little 4-year-old a chance at life.”
This is the third year Quinnipiac has sent a team of students to Nicaragua during January break, and Bogdan said it is becoming a tradition. A senior, Bodgan said she hopes to return next year as a team leader and that her experience confirmed that she made the right move while weighing her options at Lynbrook High School.
“It solidified my decision more,” Bogdan said of the journey. “I want to be an OT now more than ever.”
Above, Larisa Bogdan, 21, of Lynbrook, holds up Kenner, 4, a Nicaraguan child who suffers from malnourishment. (Jan. 4, 2011)