UMSL alumnus Joe Broeckelmann

In the fall, UMSL College of Nursing alumnus and U.S. Air Force service member Joe Broeckelmann traveled to West Africa to assist in the fight against the Ebola outbreak. (Photos courtesy of Joe Broeckelmann)

In late September, within a week and a half after President Barack Obama announced plans for a ramped-up response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, Joe Broeckelmann found himself on a C-17 aircraft headed for Liberia.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus and 33 fellow airmen based at Langley Air Force Base had just days to prepare for their trip to the region, where they were tasked with setting up a 25-bed Expeditionary Medical Support System hospital.

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The focus of the team’s efforts was setting up a tent hospital in Liberia where U.S. Public Health Service professionals can treat international health-care workers who become ill.

“The basis of the Health Response Team is that we can pretty much deploy anywhere in the world on short notice, and set up a EMEDS field hospital,” Broeckelmann said. “Within 72 hours of our arrival on the site in Monrovia, we assembled the tent hospital and began populating it with supplies and equipment.”

In addition to creating three patient wards and installing everything from laboratory equipment to a fully operational emergency department, the group was responsible for training the specialized U.S. Public Health Service professionals who took over where Broeckelmann’s team left off.

The facility is now serving health-care workers in the region who become sick while taking care of Ebola patients. The EMEDS team was not in direct contact with patients, Broeckelmann noted.

“We were very limited in terms of where we were able to go,” he said. “The only contact we had with locals was our van drivers and hotel staff. I was nervous going over there because we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but overall I think we did feel safe.”

In total, Broeckelmann spent three weeks in West Africa. He returned to the states in October and underwent observation for 21 days.

“There were a lot of people that were happy to see us back, but you could tell some people were very frightened of anybody coming back from Africa,” Broeckelmann said.

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Broeckelmann returned to Virginia in October and is serving as an emergency room nurse at Langley Air Force Base.

As short as his stay was, the shift from a first-world to third-world country left an impact.

“Liberia is the poorest country that I’ve ever seen firsthand,” he said. “It’s hard to describe without seeing it. Being in the United States, it definitely makes you appreciate what we have here.”

Despite it all, the country’s beauty along the Atlantic Ocean and its kind, strong people also left an impression.

“For everything that country’s going through right now, they are very resilient people, and everyone is very nice,” he said. “If I had the chance, I would volunteer to go back for six to eight months. I would do it on a moment’s notice. They need more doctors, they need more nurses … They need more people willing to go over. If we help provide resources, hopefully it will make more civilian providers feel comfortable, [knowing] if they get sick, there’s resources to help them.”

Back in Virginia, where he lives with his wife and fellow UMSL nursing graduate Krista Broeckelmann and nine-month-old son Charles, Broeckelmann works as an emergency room nurse at Langley. He went on active duty with the U.S. Air Force in 2013.

Broeckelmann, a Missouri native, graduated from UMSL’s College of Nursing in 2009, following in the career footsteps of his mother and sister.

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Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life
Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.