Lexie Dooley made a connection with a little Guatemalan boy.
Only about 5 years old, the boy touched her face, played with her hair and sat in her lap. He gave her a big hug.
But he never said a word.
“Later, we found out he wasn’t able to talk,” Dooley said. “They’re pretty sure he had autism.”
Dooley, who graduates today from Midland University, was among nursing students who went to the South American country earlier this year.
There, the group built stoves and assessed families for health conditions. Because of that interaction, group members told Nursing Heart, Inc., about the boy’s situation.
Now, the organization would contact the family to get the child the help he needs.
What if the students hadn’t been there?
“He wouldn’t have gotten the help,” she said, noting that the family wouldn’t have known where to get assistance.
Months after that priceless interaction, Dooley looks forward to graduation and plans to become an oncology nurse.
Dooley, who is from Missouri Valley, Iowa, was a child when she realized she wanted a career in nursing.
It started years ago, when her grandfather, Richard Powell, had head and neck cancer and multiple surgeries.
Dooley was inspired by her aunt, Leslie Collins, a nurse who’d graduated from Midland University.
“She helped my family understand all the medical terminology,” Dooley said.
And Collins provided direction for Powell’s treatment.
“She was a big part of helping my family understanding the care my grandpa needed,” Dooley said. “I felt like I would want to be the person to do that for other families going through this.”
Dooley grew up on a small family farm. Her dad, Bud, took over the farm and her mom, Brenda, works at First National Bank of Omaha.
Her older sister, Whitney Reisz, graduated from Midland in 2014 with a degree in secondary education in science and teaches at Missouri Valley High School.
Dooley was still in high school when she went through the HOSA-Future Health Professionals program. She studied medical terminology and anatomy.
“It was a big, comprehensive class and then we also were able to compete at the state level and I went on to nationals,” she said.
At Midland, Dooley played softball for two years and was a catcher. That ended after she had two hip surgeries.
She also was a nursing tutor at The Learning Center on the university campus. This year, she was secretary and treasurer of the Student Nurses Association and was voted “Student Nurse of the Year” by her instructors.
During her time at Midland, Dooley took two trips to Guatemala.
She and other nursing students were involved in school clinics for young children in 2017. The students recorded the children’s heights and weights and conducted respiratory and heart assessments. The children were given anti-parasitic medication — and many got their first toothbrush.
“We got to teach them how to brush their teeth and we also did fluoride treatments,” Dooley said.
While in Guatemala, the students also helped build eight wood-fire stoves, consisting of bricks, a platform and burners.
The stoves are designed to take emissions out of the house to reduce respiratory and other problems for families who cook tortillas over a flame.
Dooley also was among students who went to Guatemala in January.
This time, the students conducted a clinic at a school for children with special needs and built eight more stoves. They conducted a foot clinic in a nursing home operated by three nuns.
The students washed residents’ feet, trimmed their toenails and gave them foot massages.
“One of the elderly ladies — she was the sweetest; She told me my eyes were beautiful and I told her I was jealous because I thought her eyes were the most beautiful and then she just kind of giggled,” Dooley said. “When I left, she told me she loved me and I made her day and she gave me a kiss on the cheek.”
It was a moment that transcended the language barrier and pointed to another lesson for the student nurses: the universality of smiles and compassion.
Dooley learned much from the trip.
“We don’t realize how lucky we are,” she said, adding that the Guatemalans were very grateful for the help.
On Thursday, Dooley looked back on her years at Midland.
“I was blessed to have amazing instructors,” she said. “You build such a strong bond with them, especially in nursing, because of the hours you spend together with clinical and class. You really get to know each other.”
Dooley has appreciated the relationships she’s been able to build at Midland — with coaches, staff, friends and instructors.
“It’s a small community, but it’s big,” she said. “You know a lot of people, but you don’t know everyone. It just has a small-town feel, which is kind of like home.”
After graduation, Dooley plans to return to Missouri Valley, where she will co-coach the high school dance team with her sister, Whitney.
She’s looking for a nursing job.
And she looks forward to this: “to be able to care for oncology patients as best I can — to give those families the support they need throughout the hardest time in their lives.”