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CHICAGO — It’s been said that challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.

For Dr. Erika Stoor-Burning, the meaning came quite by chance during a trip to Honduras as a physician assistant when she saw a need.

She helped document the health of patients, which wasn’t being done in a meaningful and lasting way.

She said she grabbed her translator and found three women in town who wanted to learn how to take blood pressure and blood sugars.

“We literally found paper on the floor and some pens and we started writing down all the people’s names and their vital signs,” Stoor-Burning said. “And I said ‘We just changed the way they record this stuff.'”

When she called six months later, those three women, and some others, were still using it.

“It turned out when I called six months ago and they said ‘Oh those three ladies taught others how to do it.’ It was growing on its own,” Stoor-Burning said.

That growth lit a spark and a mission: To help others learn in under-resourced areas in unconventional ways.

Even in lockdown, Stoor-Burning continued helping to figure out how to teach CPR remotely, in a different county, using of all things, a two-liter bottle.

“You have that immediate feedback of pushing down on the bottle and it pops back up and then you know, you’re doing right, so you can do it over and over again on that empty two-liter bottle,” she said. “So we stuffed it in a shirt and packed it all up and when we were done it looked just like a chest. It was a CPR mannequin.”

You could call her a medical McGyver. And just like the TV show, she figures out solutions so even those under-resourced colleagues in other parts of the world can still save lives.

Her research led to a doctorate in health science, global studies and a trip to Africa to tell others about the project.

“When I was presenting at this West Africa conference, two people from Liberia came up to me and said ‘I need to do this but for neo-natal resuscitation. Can you help me?’ That’s all they needed to say and I was like ‘I don’t know how to do it but we will figure it out,'” Stoor-Burning said.

Just last month, because after months of working overtime to buy supplies, she and another physician assistant traveled to Liberia to set up a new sustainable training program to teach others to help save newborns.

“It was an amazing opportunity to know that we were making a difference in these PA students and PAs who are going to work in rural areas and maybe in a position to have to use these skills,” Stoor-Burning said.

But the challenge is not done.

Now she’s figuring out how to get more mannequins to more students.

“Because as this project grows, they need more mannequins to teach more people and when you teach someone you’re supposed to give them a mannequin to go out and teach somebody,” she said.

She’s now raising money online to continue finding a meaningful impact for others.

“I feel compelled to help them because they’re my peers,” she said. “They may be in a different country, they may be on a different continent, but they’re PAs and I’m a PA so let’s help each other.”