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Frontier grad headed to Guatemala to offer health aid

Cara D'Antonio of South Deerfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Cara D'Antonio of South Deerfield. Recorder/Paul Franz

DEERFIELD — While her peers travel to Mexico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Florida for spring break, a young local woman will travel with 22 others to one of the poorest countries in Central America to help children and their families who don’t even have enough money to buy a toothbrush.
“It breaks my heart to see what a great life we live here while knowing how badly others in the world are suffering,” said Cara D’Antonio, a South Deerfield native who graduated from Frontier Regional High School in 2011 and is now in her junior year of nursing school at Westfield State University.
“Our biggest complaint is about our iPhones not working, while other people are starving and struggling just to get through each day. Many don’t have a roof over their heads or food to eat.”
D’Antonio said she has always had an “overwhelming need to help others.” She said she realizes that the week-long trip is just a small step, but said every little bit helps.
The 20-year-old volunteered with 19 other nursing students to take the 2,300-mile trip to teach some of the poorest people in the world how to brush their teeth, as well as the importance of taking vitamins and good hygiene.
D’Antonio must raise $1,800 to pay for her airfare, food and hotel stay.
“The nursing students are also trying to raise money as a whole to bring supplies to these people,” said D’Antonio. “We’re actually going to try to help build a house while we’re there — in between all of the clinics we’ll hold during the week.”
D’Antonio said the trip was offered to about 60 nursing students and 20 decided to go. She said two teachers and a photographer will travel with them.
“We’ll be working with everyone from very young children to adults,” said D’Antonio. “There’s going to be a language barrier — I took a little Spanish in high school — but we’ll get through, because hugs are understood no matter what language you speak.”
D’Antonio said she hopes the trip turns out to be a life-changing experience for her. She said she hasn’t even left and she’s already thinking about joining the Peace Corps after she graduates in 2015.
She said she hopes that for the people of Guatemala it is an educational experience they will never forget.
“We’ll leave them supplies, like toothbrushes and sunscreen, and teach them how to use them,” she said. “We hope they’ll continue using them when we’re gone.”
D’Antonio said she caught the “volunteering bug” from her mother, who has had her working at church dinners since she was young.
“My mom always wanted to join the Peace Corps, but got sick after she graduated college,” said D’Antonio. “I know she would have been out there doing this if she hadn’t gotten so sick.”
D’Antonio said it was always important to her mother and father that they and their three children give back to their community.
She said she decided to major in nursing when she was in high school.
“My mom got sick again when I was 9 or 10,” said D’Antonio. “She has been sick since and struggled a lot.”
D’Antonio said watching her mother struggle with cancer and heart problems was a major influence in her career choice.
“My mom told me a story about how she had just had a large sarcoma removed from her left shoulder and the nurse taking care of her seemed to be annoyed that she had to do everything for her,” said D’Antonio. “Later, a male nurse, who happened to be walking by her room, saw that she was crying and asked why.”
D’Antonio’s mother told the nurse that she couldn’t raise her arms to cut her food because it was in a sling and she was in too much pain.
“He went in and cut up all of her food and made her stay in the hospital bearable,” she said through tears. “I want to do that for someone someday.”
D’Antonio isn’t sure yet what type of nursing she wants to pursue. She said she has several clinicals to go before she decides.
“I think I’d like pediatrics, but I won’t be doing that clinical until next year,” she said.
D’Antonio said she’ll probably travel a little after graduation — some for fun and some to help others — but believes she will eventually end up back in New England.
“This will always be home,” said D’Antonio, who will leave for Guatemala on March 15 and return on March 22.
“Many people in countries like Guatemala depend on trips like the one we’re taking to get the help they need,” she said.
She hopes that even just one high school student who hears about what she’s doing decides to major in nursing. Better yet, she said she hopes someone decides to go somewhere, whether just outside their door or outside of the country, to help someone else.
When she returns, D’Antonio said she hopes to be a changed person.
To contribute to the Westfield State University Nursing Program for supplies to bring the poor in Guatemala, send a check to: Westfield State University Nursing Program, 577 Western Ave., Westfield, MA 01085. Write “Guatemala trip supplies” on the memo line.
To help D’Antonio with trip expenses, send a check to: Cara D’Antonio, 85 South Mill River Road, South Deerfield, MA 01373.

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