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Will Work for Experience

The founder of Cascades Medical Ambassadors started his training by defying convention

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If you're going to a South American country to conduct business, don't forget to pack a few bottles of whiskey.

Luckily, being a clever fellow, Bend's Casey Husk came to Ecuador prepared.

In 2010 Husk, a 26-year-old former Marine, made his first medical trip to the coastal South American country and, after eight weeks of volunteer work in one of the country's busiest hospitals, Husk fulfilled his personal mission. Inspired by what he saw and experienced, he returned to Bend, garnered more local support, started a non-profit, gathered up a few equally eager pre-med cohorts and has since returned to that hospital in Guayaquil to treat the country's poor and underserved.

And it was all (OK, partly) made possible by a bottle of whiskey.

"Did you bring Dr. Jiminez a bottle of whiskey?" asked Pablo, Husk's Ecuadorian friend and go-between, before the two met with the hospital's volunteer director. After Husk replied in the affirmative, Pablo expressed his approval.

"Good. That's how we do things here," Pablo said.

Needless to say, the gift, as well as that initial meeting, went well. The loose Ecuadorian operations have become normal for Husk, the founder of Cascades Medical Ambassadors. Husk has seen all sorts of craziness during his three summers volunteering at Hospital Luis Vernaza.

"Gunshot wounds are the most common thing," Husk said. Such sights have made the ambitious Oregon State University-Cascades Campus pre-med student thankful for every waking minute. The gore, as well as the good, has only worked to bolster Husk's enthusiasm.

"They're very good at what they do," said Husk of the doctors he works with in the 1,000-bed hospital in Guayaquil. Husk said it's not uncommon to see a doctor trained as both a general surgeon and an ob-gyn to volunteer for years before actually landing a paid position.

Husk began his own volunteer trips to Ecuador after established medical exchange programs shut him down.

"This originated with me being a pre-med student trying to get hands-on experience (in a Spanish-speaking country)," Husk said. "I decided to go about it on my own."

In 2010, with no contacts and no idea of what he'd do or find once he landed in Ecuador, Husk booked a plane ticket. Soon after landing, though, he had rented a room and persuaded Dr. Jimenez to let him volunteer. That first summer Husk worked in the women's general surgery ward and every third day he completed 24-hour emergency- room shifts.

The Central Oregonian learned a lot that summer, and in 2011, Husk returned with a load of medical equipment donated by St. Charles Medical Center as well as five other pre-med students. Husk and the Cascades Medical Ambassadors then repeated a similar trip last summer with even more suture kits, surgical pats and sterile garments.

"We try to help out nonprofit charities all around the community," said St. Charles' Tony Arnold, Husk's medical-supplies contact in Bend.

The Ambassadors have since been brought into the fold of Reach Another Foundation, a nonprofit outreach program founded by Bend's Dr. Marinus Koning. Now, aside from his studies and volunteer work, Husk is also a board member.

"When I started out I wanted to know how health care works, but not only am I developing a true understanding of how health care there works, I'm learning about planning and running programs, too," Husk said.

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