By Gina Beach
Stories in this student-led and -written Outlook series highlight the distinctive summer internships and work experiences of students from across the academic spectrum.
Playing baseball, putting on dances and riding motorcycles aren't typical of a medical student's rounds. But fourth-year Ohio University College of Medicine student Nick Pfleghaar did all of these things and more during his pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation hours this summer as a muscular dystrophy camp counselor for two weeks.
Held at Boy Scout Camp Miakonda in Sylvania, Ohio, Pfleghaar assisted Dr. Julie Miller the last week of June at the annual camp sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Miller, who works in pediatric rehabilitation at the Toledo Children's Hospital, is an administrator for the camp, which serves about 40 campers, ages 6 to 21.
During his time at Camp Miakonda, Pfleghaar served as a counselor and personal assistant for camper Dustin Sullivan. Dustin, 15, was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy. Dustin relies on a motorized wheelchair for mobility and needs assistance with toileting, bathing and feeding.
"He needed help with everything. I was that person 24 hours a day," said Pfleghaar, who stayed in Dustin's cabin with other campers and counselors. "The kids had to be turned every two hours (at night) to prevent bed sores."
The opportunity to work at Camp Miakonda came about through the Center for Osteopathic Research and Education, a medical education consortium composed of teaching hospitals in Ohio and colleges of osteopathic medicine. Following two years of academic coursework, all third- and fourth-year medical students gain valuable rotation hours and residencies with CORE partners while communicating with the Athens campus via videoconference.
"(Nick) was just so excited about going," said Connie Walker, the CORE administrative assistant who helped Pfleghaar arrange the experience. "He is highly respected by the doctors he's rotated with. They really loved him at the camp, too."
According to Walker, long hours and the physical demands of being a camp counselor sometimes dissuade medical students from participating in the program. Many opt for more traditional rotation hours in a physician's office, she said.
But Pfleghaar wasn't deterred by the commitment.
In line with the camp's Olympic Games' theme, the Bowling Green, Ohio, native helped facilitate many adaptive sporting events for the campers, including wheelchair baseball and assisted swimming. Campers even managed the improbable by using special harnesses to "climb" trees up to 30 feet in the air. But one of the biggest treats of the week was the side car rides, offered by a group of Harley Davidson motorcyclists.
"They get to go out there and feel like real kids," Pfleghaar said. "The kids wait for (camp) every year. Hearing them say that they are so excited, you really feel like you've made a difference."
The week was not without its challenges, both physical and emotional. At one point Dustin's wheelchair broke down, requiring Pfleghaar to push it.
"That is his only mobility -- controlled by joystick," Pfleghaar said. "We were able to address it, but you don't realize how important it really is."
Although Pfleghaar is leaning toward a career in trauma medicine, he said his experience at Camp Miakonda gave him a new appreciation for people with disabilities and their caretakers -- a compassion that will benefit his future practice.
"The amount of care required is extremely taxing and extremely rewarding," he said. "When patients come in with their caretakers, I can understand their dynamics to provide better care."
Updated Oct. 27, 2008, to include Pfleghaar's home town.