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A Mount Sinai nurse on the world stage

Leslie Vermeersch could have been anywhere: on a beach in the Caribbean, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, or relaxing at home. Instead, the Mount Sinai maternal infant nurse spent her time off in the spring of 2007 volunteering with Global Camps Africa in South Africa, teaching 140 South African teenaged boys about health, respecting others, and respecting themselves.leslie-Vermeersch.jpg

“We were lucky to be born here in Canada,” says Vermeersch. “We have an obligation to help those who are growing up in impoverished regions.”

The only nurse in her camp, Vermeersch saw each boy daily. Most of the children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, and many had long-term infections, or HIV/AIDS symptoms.

In addition to her nursing duties, Vermeersch taught healthy lifestyle classes which included lessons on nutrition and safe sex. “I found it interesting to see how they responded to the education,” she says. “I could see their attitudes shifting. I hope they’ll teach their friends at home what they learned at camp.”

Vermeersch understands the importance of learning and empowers her patients, whether they are young boys in Africa, or new mothers at Mount Sinai, by educating them to ensure they can take some responsibility in their own treatment.

“Health is influenced by education,” she says. “By eliminating myths and being knowledgeable about your condition, you can take better care of yourself.”

“Leslie brought compassion and true caring to the practice of camp nursing,” says Global Camps Africa Director, Phil Lilienthal. “Her superb nursing skills and ability to make people from different cultures and backgrounds feel comfortable in her presence allowed her to make a real impact in the boys’ lives. She was a star!”

Upon her return to the Hospital, Vermeersch has continued to care for her patients with all of her heart. “Working in health care makes you appreciate your life every day and meeting the children in Africa made me appreciate it even more.”