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N.Y. nurse finds niche in Nepal, wins Kaplan U. award

Natasha Zurcher, RN

Kaplan University School of Nursing adjunct faculty member Natasha Zurcher knew she had a unique student the moment she read Maria Almanza’s introductory email.

That was when Zurcher, MSN/Ed, RN, CPN, learned Almanza was writing from the other side of the world — Nepal, to be exact.

“I had to read her introduction over a couple of times,” Zurcher said. “I was like, ‘Wow, she’s actually over there?’”

Zurcher’s course, Bachelor’s Capstone in Nursing, is the final one taken by students in the RN-to-BSN program before receiving their diplomas, so enthusiasm is high. Almanza’s presence raised that level when she shared experiences in Nepal with classmates during live online meetings. “She talked about things like tiger bites and wounds from hiking in the area,” Zurcher said. “It was so interesting and a great learning opportunity, not only for myself but for the whole class.”

Almanza, BSN, RN, came home to New York after the course ended in February, but she returned to Nepal in March for a third time. This time, instead of staying for five months as she did on her first two visits, she expects to stay two or three years as she continues her work with Bucketts of Love, the charitable organization she founded in 2013.

Almanza recently was named the first winner of Kaplan’s #LeadLikeANurse contest for her work in Nepal and received a $500 donation from the school for the charity.

During her first visit to Nepal in 2012, when she volunteered at a hospital in Chitwan, home to the College of Medical Sciences, she noticed many people with undiagnosed diabetes-related problems, such as kidney failure, sepsis and major infections leading to the amputation of limbs and damaged eyesight.

A glucometer shows one person’s dangerously high reading.

On the advice of Sita Parajulle, the nursing director at the College of Medical Sciences, Almanza created Bucketts of Love when she returned to New York.

The charitable organization, in combination with a nonprofit organization Almanza founded in Nepal called the College of Medical Sciences Diabetic Foundation, provides free healthcare and education for impoverished people in their battle with diabetes.

Almanza, who is from Staten Island, is expanding her work beyond Chitwan this year to health camps in various regions near Pokhara, Nepal. She works with a physician who specializes in diabetes care. Almanza wrote in an email exchange with that she intends to stay in Nepal until she realizes her dream of building a clinic and having it sustained by physicians and nurses who will provide free care to those suffering from diabetes.

“I already have nurses and doctors from the U.S. who are coming here to help,” Almanza wrote. “Eventually, I would like to take Bucketts of Love around the world to other Third World countries, but … one thing at a time.”

Almanza first visited Nepal in 2012.

A typical day for Almanza, who is living this year in Pokhara, includes waking up at 6 a.m., walking her dogs (Buckett, Sweety and Hawa), going for a bike ride and, when she has free time, Skyping with her family.

Three days a week, she goes to a hospital to work in the ED. Every Saturday, she visits a different health camp in the region, where she tests people for diabetes and provides education.

Needless to say, working in Nepal is much different from working in New York.

One of the biggest obstacles is trying to assess and treat people with little to no resources.

”In Nepal, the patients have to buy everything before they are treated – from gauze to IV tubing to gloves for the doctors and nurses,” Almanza wrote. “So when you have a patient come to the emergency room bleeding out and you have to wait for the family member to come back with the proper supplies before you can do anything … it gets a little frustrating. But that’s something that will not change for a long time, and although it is hard to watch, it’s something I have to accept for the moment.”

Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.

By | 2020-04-15T09:16:39-04:00 October 12th, 2014|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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