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Patch Whiz Kid of the Week: Jameson Achuff

This week, Marple Newtown Patch highlights Episcopal Academy junior Jay Achuff for his big act of volunteering with a medical team to help deliver medical supplies and aid in heart surgeries to Mongolian children.

Each week, Marple Newtown Patch will seek suggestions from readers for individual kids, youth groups, teens, and even sports teams that wow us with their accomplishments. This week we highlight Jay Achuff for his dedication in delivering medical supplies to children in need in Mongolia.

Patch Whiz Kid of the Week: Jameson "Jay" Achuff

Whiz Kid's Age: 16

Whiz Kid's School:

Whiz Kid's Accomplishment: In partnership with the Achuff's non-profit organization, Lifesong International, Inc., Jay joined a team of 22 Americans and traveled to Mongolia for two weeks in September of this year.

With his mother, Dr. Barbara-Jo Achuff, a doctor at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the team carried medical supplies and echo-cardiogram machines by railway to the southwest portion of the Gobi desert near the Chinese border.

The purpose was to examine children for life-threatening congenital heart defects. The “Searching for Broken Hearts” mission is run by the organization For Hearts and Souls and is made up of a mix of medical professionals and support people from all over the country.

The team screened 1,284 children and found 50 with cardiac defects. These babies would die without proper care. Jay was instrumental in organizing and entertaining the children while they waited to be seen by the doctors. Many of whom waited four to six hours to be seen.

The American surgeons worked with a Mongolian medical staff to perform 10 open heart surgeries and 19 heart catheterizations. Jay worked tirelessly in all areas–from taking syringes of blood to different places for lab work and to supplying water and coffee to keep the medical team on their toes.

Whiz Kid's Key to Awesomeness: His first time in Mongolia, Jay always had the desire to go and volunteer, more so this year, considering the high school junior would be college bound soon.

"My mom went a couple of times and came back with stories," shared Jay. "And I knew I just really wanted to do it this year since it would be one of the last years that I would be able to go because next year I would be a senior. I've been wanting to go and decided that this year would be a good fit."

A culture shock for Jay, who slept in Mongolian 'Ger' tents with open fires and eating unfamiliar foods in the countryside with the team, he stayed positive.

"We stayed the first week in the countryside. That was really interesting. The landscape was really flat with maybe an occasional mountain," recalled Jay. "It was very cold in the 'Ger' when the fire died down and we were grateful that we had packed a sleeping bag. Some of our team members had no sleeping bags so that was especially hard for them. Since I had never eaten goat meat or mutton before, the food was also a surprise. Although it was very fatty and greasy, it wasn’t bad actually."

After a week in the countryside, the medical team took to the urban streets in the city of Ulan Bataar. A stark contrast from the countryside, Jay took note of the city, "It looked like they were trying to be industrialized like the other countries but no fully there."

One of the biggest obstacles for Jay was the language barrier. "We didn't have a translator with us walking around the city and couldn't read any of the signs."

But laughter seemed to break any language barrier that he was struggling with.

While the children waited in line to see a doctor, Jay helped keep them at ease and calmed their nerves by setting up a "carnival-like" atmosphere with balloon animals, toys and candy for the children.

"We didn’t speak their language so there was a lot of charades and eventually the shy children shared smiles and giggles," said Jay.

According to Jay, it was the first year that the Mongolian doctors ran the surgeries, one of the many goals for the team.

"My hope is for them to develop self sufficiency," said Jay. "I would want to leave them with hope for the future of their children and being able to continue the medical things that we were doing without us, so that we would not have to go back."

An eye-opening experience for Jay, he hopes to do this type of volunteerism again.

"It's really a great experience. It's sort of like a character building experience and especially for those that want to go into the medical field, it's even more experience," he said. "To get out of your comfort zone is also a great thing."

And although he was helping others, the people in Mongolia and the experience also helped Jay in his own personal growth.

"You're sort of wondering what you really have that is really necessary and how much harder it is and how much harder that they have to work for it," remembered Jay. "It has certainly changed me. It made me look at how I sort of live and how America lives."

Though he's not looking into the medical field, Jay hopes to study bioengineering in the future.

Editor's note: Know a great kid who made Eagle Scout or did your local soccer team take the championship? They may be our next Patch Whiz Kid honoree. We want to hear about these amazing children and teens and select one each week as the Patch Whiz Kid. Send nominations to jennifer.kim@patch.com.

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