Breathing Easy – Reflections from a Project C.U.R.E. Volunteer

By Alyssa Thomason

I’ve been volunteering at Project C.U.R.E. for years with my whole family. What started as my brother looking for some high school volunteer hours evolved into a second career for my mother, who currently serves as Operations Director for the Houston warehouse, uniting her passions for volunteering and management with her interests in healthcare. If you volunteer there, you’ll find her giving orientation talks, driving forklifts, calling embassies, reminding people to hydrate, and doing what she loves.

I wanted to share the experience of volunteering at Project C.U.R.E. with my peers in medical school, so we partnered with HOMES, and started volunteering with students from BCM, McGovern, and UHCOP. I believe that this organization and the healthcare students of Houston have a lot to offer each other. Even as students, we have more intuition than you’d think for dealing with the supplies that need to be sorted, fixed, categorized, or discarded. As we learn about some of these tools in the warehouse, we recognize and understand them on a different level when we see them in the hospital or clinic – we’ve become more comfortable and familiar with them.

My favorite example of this phenomenon is my personal “pet project” around the warehouse, sorting laryngoscopes (the tool used for placing breathing tubes). The summer before entering medical school, I embarked on the intimidating project of sifting through the piles of parts of varied sizes, shapes, and models to figure out how they fit together, how to trouble shoot when they didn’t work, and which parts were needed for a complete and usable set.

In the classroom, I learned how to use these tools to make sure patients can keep breathing. I saw them in practiced hands in operating rooms and trauma bays and intensive care units. I taught other medical students about them as we practiced with mannequins.

When I see an intubation in the hospital, I think back to the sweaty Houston warehouse that summer, picking apart the handles and batteries and lightbulbs. I think about the once-scattered parts assembled whole in the hands of a doctor who didn’t have one before, oceans and continents away. I think about when my brother was in the hospital and needed a breathing tube after a severe food allergy left his throat swollen shut. I think about the doctors who have plenty of laryngoscopes at their disposal to save kids like my brother every day and send people into surgery safely.

I think about these things as I’m volunteering with HOMES students, teaching them how to pack up kits of complete laryngoscopes. Together, we pick through buckets of parts, testing and re-testing their fit, and finally packaging them into a box. We place the boxes on a growing stack of other boxes waiting to be packed onto a shipping container that will fly or float to its destination, where someone will have the tools to save lives.

Alyssa is a fourth-year medical student at BCM interested in global surgery, currently serving as the Project C.U.R.E. Liaison to HOMES Clinic. 

 Alyssa with her mother in the Houston warehouse

Alyssa with her mother in the Houston warehouse

 Partially sorted laryngoscope parts.

Partially sorted laryngoscope parts.

 A fully assembled laryngoscope and piles of complete laryngoscope kits packed by HOMES students.

A fully assembled laryngoscope and piles of complete laryngoscope kits packed by HOMES students.