MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Aaron Santmyire, of Wiley Ford, W.Va., was traveling down the Manabolo River in southwest Madagascar when he decided to join the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program at the West Virginia University School of Nursing.

Santmyire has lived in Madagascar since 2007 working as a nurse practitioner, a missionary, and a health educator. He and a group of fellow missionaries and healthcare providers were using a hovercraft to reach a remote village that had never had visitors before.

“The inexperienced pilot of the hovercraft managed to knock down part of a nearby house, run into trees, slam into rocks, and maroon the hovercraft on a sand bar in the middle of the river while his passengers, me included, were praying that we were not going to be the hungry crocs’ next meal,” Santmyire said.

Once they were off of the hovercraft, the group waded through thick, warm, knee-deep mud and boas swimming around them. “It was on this trip that I decided if I was going to risk my life, I wanted to provide superior care to whomever I came in contact with,” he said.

Santmyire turned to WVU to learn that superior care. He had always wanted to be a graduate of WVU, though his missionary work in other countries made that a challenge. After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees in other states, Santmyire felt like the D.N.P. program was his last chance to become a Mountaineer. He was pleased to find out that he could complete most of his work while living in Madagascar.

He juggled family life (he and his wife Heather are both missionaries), taking care of his two children, and caring for rural villagers while earning a portion of his D.N.P. degree from WVU. Electricity and internet connection were also concerns for Santmyire because they are not stable there, but he didn’t have problems staying connected too often, he said.

Santmyire returned to the U.S. for one year to implement a capstone project for his degree. He created a website tracking project to improve the treatment of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a community-acquired bacterial infection of the skin, in Marion County, W.Va. Santmyire earned his D.N.P. diploma in 2013.

“The nursing program at WVU was such a blessing to me and is being carried over to the Malagasy people as I apply what I learned,” he said. “The program has also helped sharpen my skill set, so that I was able to begin teaching in the nursing schools – both rural and urban.”

If given the opportunity, Santmyire would like to return to WVU and work on a Master of Business Administration degree to help administrate and streamline health services in Madagascar.

Currently, Santmyire is providing dermatology care in two hospitals in northern Madagascar and teaching in a nursing school. He helps treat a variety of different diseases from common problems like eczema and psoriasis to more rare conditions like leprosy and a long-term fungal infection of the skin called chromoblastomycosis.

Each day, he is confronted with how fragile life can be in a country where healthcare is less than adequate.

“Conditions that would easily be cared for in developed countries are at times neglected or mistreated, leading to tragic consequences and lives that are changed forever,” he said. “On a more positive note, I am amazed by the resiliency and the will to live of the Malagasy people.”

This story appears in the latest edition of WVUhealth magazine, which can be found online at http://wvuhealthcare.com/media/wvu-health-magazine.

Photo captions: (Top photo) The Santmyire family: Aaron and his wife, Heather, with their two children, Josiah and Isabelle. (Bottom photo) Santmyire treats a patient at a clinic in Andapa, Madagascar. (Photos submitted by Aaron Santmyire.)

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dc/sw: 11-05-14