Today, Sister Karen teaches and practices pediatric emergency medicine at The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, but four times a year, in a unique partnership between her life as a sister and her work as a medical professor, she takes pediatric residents from Hopkins to third-world countries to learn that same lesson.
With a team of volunteer nurses and one nonclinical volunteer assistant, she and the residents travel to Guyana, Peru and Haiti. This year, she added Guatemala.
Sister Karen depends on donations, most of them from her religious connections, to fund her efforts, known as the Mercy Medical Mission. Hopkins builds 10 weeks of travel into her schedule and provides the residents.
“They were dying from dehydration and as a simple medical student I started IVs,” she said. “That’s when I realized there are places in the world where there are no doctors and people die from a lack of the most basic medical care.”
“To examine a child who is dying of malnutrition, [residents] don’t see that,” Sister Karen said. “Eighty percent of the children in the world have worms, and they don’t see that at Hopkins. It’s made a huge impression on these students, who will go on to be the leaders in pediatrics.”
It’s her hope that they, in turn, will be receptive to sending residents to far-flung countries which will make even more people aware “of that kind of poverty.”
It’s heart-breaking work. Sister Karen said they give every mother they see a month’s supply of vitamins for their children. But some mothers, whose children are suffering from malnutrition, don’t want the vitamins. When malnourished, the children don’t feel hunger pains, but when the vitamins restore the body’s vitamin and mineral balance, the children will feel hunger and cry for food – food their mothers don’t have.
Sister Karen Schnider, R.S.M., M.D.
Sister Karen Schneider, R.S.M., M.D., was just a fourth-year medical student when she found herself managing a malaria outbreak in a remote village in Guyana. She arrived at a Jesuit mission to find the priest gone and the other health-care providers stricken with the disease, which was devastating the village. The priest’s housekeeper grabbed her hand and literally dragged her to the clinic.
“The thing I will never forget is walking in, and the stench was unbelievable,” Sister Karen recalled. “It was vomit and sweat and stool and people were just laying in this stuff. I was a medical student, who came down to learn about malaria, and I didn’t have a book with me and I’m thrown into this epidemic.”
At sundown, the housekeeper tucked her into a bed covered with mosquito netting and instructed her to stay there for 12 hours to avoid mosquito bites. The next morning, Sister Karen awoke to see dugout canoes filled with sick people on stretchers making their way down river to the clinic.
But while she was there, nobody died.