On a day-to-day basis, Misericordia University graduate Leah Steele, R.N., sees some pretty amazing cases as a nurse in the pediatric intermediate care unit at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, one of the most highly respected pediatric units in the country. But her work just barely prepared her for a recent trip to Ecuador where she assisted two pediatric heart surgeons who performed 27 life-saving surgeries in 20 days.

"It is just eye-opening when you get there. What we take for granted in medicine, they would give anything for," Steele said. "They have a very high mortality rate. It truly was a gift to them to be able to fix something so small."

By small, Steele refers to Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital condition where a child has a hole between the two bottom chambers of their heart. It is a common heart problem in children and one that, by standards in the United States, is relatively easy to fix with a surgical patch.

For the 10th year, Hershey Medical Center (HMC) sent two cardiac surgery teams to Ecuador, including two doctors each with a team of nurses, anesthesiologists, perfusionists, residents, medical students and senior high school students from Milton S. Hershey High School who served as translators.

The team of cardiologists and residents screened more than 40 children per day, determining which patients the team may best be able to help. The children selected ranged in age from 3 months to 17 years old.

The teams took a load of equipment with them, including surgical instruments and medicine. Ecuadorean doctors and nurses assisted with the surgeries.

"I was responsible for post-operative care for the 14 surgeries my team did the first week," says Steele, who plans to return to Ecuador with another HMC surgery team in November 2010.

"As a child, I had asthma and was in and out of the hospital. That made me want to be a pediatric nurse and help kids feel better."

The daughter of John and Ida Steele of Summit Hill, Steele earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Misericordia University in 2008.

A Cougar cheerleader, she had the thrill of competing in the squad's first trip to nationals in 2007 in Daytona Beach, Fla. She was also an orientation leader, a member of SOAR, the Student Outdoor Adventure & Recreation Program, and performed with the campus Chamber Singers.

"Going to Ecuador opened up a whole new world of nursing to me and those on the team," Steele adds. "It reminds us that this is why we became health care professionals. It was truly the most amazing experience of my life."

For more information about Misericordia University or the nursing program, log on to www.misericordia.edu/nursing or call (570) 674-6400.