When Maya Principe ’19 was in fifth grade, surrounded by squeamish classmates faced with dissecting a lamb’s heart, she found her calling. “Everyone else in class was hesitant, but I remember putting my finger through the aorta and thinking it was really amazing,” she recalls. She knew then she wanted to be a surgeon. Ever since, knowing the demands of that career path, she has created a string of opportunities to test her own commitment.
“I definitely want to go pre-med in college; I’m interested in public and global health, so I’ve been shadowing surgeons for the past couple of years. Freshman year, I realized Nobles was my connection to everything, and I had to take advantage of it,” Principe says.
First, friend and classmate, Noa Fay connected Principe with her father, a surgeon who had a contact at Mass Eye and Ear. Consequently, Principe shadowed Dr. Tessa Hadlock, who works in plastics and facial reconstruction for victims of facial paralysis.
Next, she shadowed classmate and friend Owen Asnis’ father, Dr. Pete Asnis, head team physician for the Boston Bruins and the Patriots, and head team orthopaedic surgeon for the Red Sox. She watched pre-op and post-op consultations and learned about and observed tactics of microscopic procedures.
Wanting to see “a more personal side” to the profession, this past June Principe shadowed her neighbor, a nurse at the Barbara McInnis House for Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. She observed wound care, inpatient facilities and SPOT (a service for those at risk of overdosing to come in, rest and have vitals monitored). She also toured facilities and spent some time in the clinic.
According to Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, “Many homeless patients struggle with at least one substance abuse problem, at least one chronic physical condition and a psychiatric illness. Each condition is often preventable and manageable…on its own. But, in combination and left untreated, such health problems become compounded — and all too often, fatal. The integrated care model at BHCHP unites physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, case managers and behavioral health professionals in close collaboration. They follow patients in a variety of settings—on the streets, at the Barbara McInnis House, in our shelter-based clinics, in the hospitals and in housing—providing regular contact and uninterrupted care.”
Principe said that like most of us, she hadn’t thought specifically about challenges to medical care for the homeless population. For those who are in the condition to be hospitalized or to go to the ER, care is accessible. But, Principe explains, “It’s after that, the months of recovery and medication, when they are most vulnerable. That’s when the gap between the general population and the homeless population really becomes apparent.”
One example Principe shared was a patient who had undergone a double-bypass in which the procedure went perfectly. He went back to living in shelters, but within a week, he experienced complications, went back to the hospital to clean out his wounds, and was back on streets, where it inevitably relapsed. “It doesn’t end at surgery. It’s hard on the street; nothing’s sanitary, you can’t store medication right, keep a wound clean or recover properly. For most of us, we go home, take the medication, shower in sanitary conditions and are fine. Boston Healthcare for the Homeless is special,” Principe says.
For her senior project, Principe is volunteering at homeless shelters and food pantries (like Rosie’s Place and St. Francis House), and will share her experiences at Senior Project Night.
One of her initiatives is a backpack drive for the Engagement Center, a program by Boston’s Public Health Commission that partners with Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless. “People tend to focus on winter gear and socks to donate, but the homeless don’t have a way to transport their things, and stuff gets stolen. Bags are a top-requested item,” Principe explains.
Through this Friday, April 19, outside of Lawrence, Principe is collecting new or used school bags, hiking backpacks, duffels, small rolling bags and sports bags. (Since more infrastructure exists to support children in need, Principe says children’s bags are not needed for this drive.)
During Reunion Weekend May 10-11, Principe has coordinated efforts with Nobles community service advisors Holly Bonomo and Linda Hurley to collect food for the Family Team at Barbara McInnis House during our well-established annual Stamp Out Hunger Drive.
Principe’s takeaway from working with and observing the needs of the homeless is “how vulnerable the population is, especially with the rising opioid crisis. I drive through Methadone Mile all the time on my way to dance. Being there, seeing the people who work with those in need every day, makes me realize how much bigger a systemic problem it is. Once you are homeless, it seems like a trap. It makes you wonder how we haven’t tried successfully to stop it before it gets to this point.”
Principe, who has shared her experiences with the Nobles community at assembly to appeal for support for the upcoming initiatives to benefit Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, continues to raise awareness and concern for this urgent humanitarian issue.