A survivor of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Nootshy Romage is now working with patients suffering from corneal disease as an intern at the Lions Eye Bank.

As a sophomore in early 2018, Nootshy Romage found out she was denied an internship. That's when she saw a lawn sign about Adelphi's competitive Jaggar Community Fellows Program, which awards life-changing, paid summer internships to around 70 students each year.

As a sophomore in early 2018, Nootshy Romage found out she was denied an internship. “I called my dad, crying,” she said. “I was just sitting on one of those benches by the University Center…” That’s when she saw a lawn sign about Adelphi’s competitive Jaggar Community Fellows Program, which awards life-changing, paid summer internships to around 70 students each year.

“Let me tell you, I don’t like writing essays,” said Romage. “But the deadline was in a few days, so I went to immediately apply.”

After an extensive application process with essays, recommendation letters and individual and group interviews, Romage received her good news. She was going to spend her summer at Northwell Health-Lions Eye Bank for Long Island. It was the experience she’d been hoping to gain, and it turned out to give her everything she expected—and more.

Romage, a biology major, is originally from Haiti. When the magnitude 7 earthquake devastated the country in 2010, she felt helpless. “I was there when the earthquake hit, and I lost my sister and my grandma all in one day,” she said. “It made me want to become a physician and practice medicine in countries like Haiti. I didn’t want what I went through to happen to another 12-year-old.” She believes that if there were more doctors in her country, more lives could have been saved.

She and her family moved to the United States two years later, in 2012.

“The summer before I came to college, my parents had thrown me a birthday party,” Romage said. “I had gotten cards, money and stuff. So I took a flight down to Haiti and used the money to just help kids in my neighborhood.” She used about $100, which converted to about 5,000 Haitian gourde, to support around 15 students in their first semester of school. This act of kindness is something she believes helped her get the internship.

Nootshy Romage working in the lab.

Romage was nervous as she stepped into the Lions Eye Bank on her first day. After a week, though, she felt at home, stimulated by her newfound community and by the experience of working in a medical environment.

“One of the things I really enjoyed was going to see donors with the technicians,” said Romage. “I was able to see things you learn in an anatomy, biology and chemistry class.”

She worked with people who suffered from corneal diseases and were hoping a corneal transplant would improve their sight. A huge part of her day was spent studying the cell count of donors see if they were a match for patients. After multiple screenings, she began to wonder if the cell count of donors had any relation to respiratory diseases they had. She knew answering this question would require tedious work, but she was up for it.

Romage spent hours over the next weeks going through files of patients with respiratory diseases. Her supervisor was impressed by her efforts since it wasn’t required of her. After gathering patients’ information, she examined their cell counts and found that some patients with the disease had a low cell count while others didn’t.

“It was a good thing to find out,” she said. “Yes, asthma and respiratory diseases can affect your cell count, but somebody with a respiratory disease can have a high cell count.”

Romage interned from June 6 through August 10. Once August approached, her team did not want to say goodbye. “At the end of my internship, they were like, ‘Can you find a way for us to just keep her here—because we love her!’ ” she said.

Bernadine Waller, M.A. ’10, associate director of experiential learning at Adelphi’s Center for Career and Professional Development and a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work, decided to step in. She mentioned that it was possible for Romage to continue her internship and get paid through work-study by joining Panthers with a Purpose, which offers semester-long internships at nonprofit organizations. On September 10, Romage was back at Lions Eye Bank, continuing the work she did before.

“Now, one thing they allow me to do is follow up with surgeons after the surgery is done,” said Romage. “I got to see an autopsy, which isn’t something you get to see until you go to medical school.”

Romage is the only student interning at the Lions Eye Bank and is building strong relationships with her team. “They motivate me because they’ve gone through similar processes,” she said. She hopes to get into medical school at New York University so she can be a step closer to her dream of becoming a doctor. Her supervisor told her that if her plans changed, she’d definitely have a job at Northwell.

“It truly was an experience incomparable to anything else,” she said.

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