5/10/2013 Chris Karlesky

Brittany Guidos '13: Extending a Helping Hand in East Timor

  • brittany guidos 13 Armed with a passion for global public health, Brittany Guidos '13 helped a patient in East Timor travel to the United States for medical care. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Guidos)

A profile of Brittany Guidos '13 is part V of "Faces of the Class of 2013," a series on the academic and extracurricular interests of graduating seniors.

Hometown: Langhorne, Pa.
Academic Major: Biology

It was January 2011, and Franklin & Marshall student Brittany Guidos '13 had just returned to Lancaster from Guatemala. She and seven other students had spent the previous two weeks educating residents of the Central American nation on basic health issues during a winter-break trip organized by the College's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. They learned about challenges facing the Guatemalan health system and the needs of residents in a developing nation.

The trip laid the foundation for another international adventure -- one that helped define Guidos' undergraduate career.

Spurred by a newfound passion for global public health, Guidos began searching for international health clinics in need of help. An online search pointed her to the Bairo Pite Clinic in East Timor, the Southeast Asian country ravaged by a long struggle for independence. With support from F&M's Paul A. Mueller Jr. Summer Award, she spent the summer of 2011 as a medical volunteer at the clinic.

"There was no such thing as a regular day at the clinic," said Guidos, who sought out blood for transfusions and provided nutrition to patients. "Sometimes we'd see 500 patients per day. People were struggling with tuberculosis, HIV and other severe diseases."

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One patient who frequently required transfusions was thought to have severe aplastic anemia (a blood-deficiency disease), requiring medical assistance that was not available in East Timor. Hearing his story, Guidos embarked on the most significant endeavor of her life: getting the patient medical attention in the United States.

"I applied to many clinical trials in an attempt to get him treatment, and helped him fill out his patient history. I tried to piece together information from all over the world," Guidos said. "Translating the consent form was a hurdle, and there were many others. For many of the patient's issues, other undergraduate students [also serving in East Timor] proved to be the most helpful, from simple things like finding funding to more complex issues like finding a host through a Facebook post."

Guidos arranged for the patient to travel to the U.S., even obtaining funding from the East Timor Ministry of Health to pay for his flights. The patient began his multi-legged journey to the U.S. in January 2012 alongside his translator, Marino Da Costa Ximenes.

"During a connection in Qatar, [airport officials] questioned him about his health condition to the point where he missed his flight," Guidos said. "I got on the phone with someone at the airport and said, 'You'll pay for the flight, and you'll give him lodging and food until his next flight.' His appointment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had been made months in advance, and he was not about to miss it while sitting in the Qatar airport."

On American soil, Guidos arranged for the patient to meet NIH officials in Washington, D.C., to determine if he could join a clinical trial for a drug to treat aplastic anemia. However, he was not accepted for the trail because he had paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare blood condition caused by the destruction of red blood cells.

"He was crying when we found out he couldn't take part in the trial," Guidos said. "But we went to a PNH expert in New York and learned there are several drugs he can take in combination for the disease. I promised him I'd work on getting the medication."

The patient eventually returned to East Timor, where he died in April due to an infection. Guidos said she has many wonderful memories of him. For her efforts, she received a personal letter from the ambassador of East Timor in Washington, D.C., and attended an event at the East Timor embassy last year.

Guidos recently accepted a position with the Peace Corps to work in Cambodia this summer. Using her biology degree from F&M as a springboard, she eventually plans to pursue a career in medicine.

"I've always known I wanted to have a career in science, because I love it so much," Guidos said. "After my international experience, I realized that I want to be an international physician. I'm excited when I see that my work has a direct and sometimes significant impact on someone's life."

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