Eddie Santoyo: From Peru to UCF – and Back Again (and Again)
Last year, Edgardo Santoyo ’18 DPT joined other students in UCF’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program and UCF’s College of Medicine for a medical service trip to Yantaló, Peru. Although the College of Medicine has made service trips outside of America, the trip marked the first time to Peru, home of Machu Picchu and other archaeological treasures.
The trip, however, was literally a homecoming for Santoyo, who grew up in Lima, Peru’s capital city and its largest city. He had never visited Yantaló, which is about 700 miles away and separated from Lima by the Andes. The mountains in Peru reach heights of more than 20,000 feet. Google Maps estimate the journey takes 20 hours to travel by car.
The journey to Santoyo’s doctoral degree has taken considerably longer. After graduating with a business degree, Santoyo worked for a while in marketing for an airline in Lima. He is also a certified ACSM personal trainer, and has been interested in physical fitness ever since he was in middle school. He had always wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy, but advanced degrees in that specialty are not available in Peru.
A new path opened to Santoyo when his mother, who had immigrated to the United States, became a citizen. She was then able to sponsor him; the process took approximately eight years for Santoyo to get his paperwork approved. “She always wanted me to be here,” Santoyo said.
Santoyo had already researched physical therapy graduate programs, and it was clear that there was only one choice: “Everyone knows about the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at UCF,” Santoyo said.
He had to take about a year of science pre-requisites prior to beginning the program. It was grueling, but Santoyo said he loved it, and even began tutoring chemistry and physics.
“The DPT program is intense,” Santoyo said. “The licensing exam is a five-hour exam where they can ask you anything from the past three years of the program. You’re not relaxing after the first three years.”
But numbers don’t lie: all graduating students – 100 percent – of the classes 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 passed the national physical therapy licensure examination.
“Eddie has been committed to understanding and applying course material, mastering hands-on clinical skills, and supporting his classmates in the process,” said Carey Rothschild, an associate lecturer in the DPT program. “He has an incredible positive attitude and drive that will lead him to great things in the future.”
Santoyo was also required to complete a capstone project. In the group project, he studied “age-related changes in the predictability of fast-gait speed and muscle strength.”
What Santoyo found, was that “In older adults, muscle strength was a good predictor of fast gait speed.” Because gait speed, in particular, fast gait speed is a good predictor of functional decline and mortality rates in older adults, Santoyo said, “Resistance training is important at any age, but becomes even more important as we age to prevent functional decline.”
When Santoyo heard that the College of Medicine would be going to Peru and wanted to partner with physical therapy students, he jumped at the chance. The trip to Yantaló was organized by Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and the Director of International Experiences.
“The population we serve in rural Peru is heavily involved in agricultural work, yet disorders of the musculoskeletal system are often not addressed,” Simms-Cendan said. “Having physical therapy as part of our team provides invaluable resources to the community.”
When Santoyo and the other students and clinicians arrived at the modern Yantaló clinic, they discovered people who had come from hundreds of miles away, and had been waiting since early in the morning.
“These people wait many months in advance for these medical service trips,” Santoyo said. “There were hundreds of people waiting in line.”
The patients were triaged according to their clinical need, Santoyo said. Because there were four DPT students, they worked as a team for each of their patients. In the United States, physical therapists generally work with patients several times a week over a period of four to six weeks. In Yantaló, Santoyo and the other students knew they would only see each patient once.
Clinical services were provided at no charge. “They were so grateful,” Santoyo said. “So grateful.” One patient in particular touched his heart: a 5-year-old girl, who had a rotational deformity caused by her toes turning in as she walked. She had cables that attached to her feet to correct her gait, Santoyo said, but that’s not what Santoyo noticed. She had a fractured arm, and when he asked her about it, the little girl said that she had been pushed down by a bully who had tormented her about using the cables.
“The people of Peru are a resilient and warm-hearted group,” said Christina Cyprien, another DPT student. This medical mission trip was such a unique and rewarding experience that has made an impact on my PT career.”
Santoyo had forewarned the students about the Peruvians’ gratitude: “You’re going to be hugged, you’re going to be kissed – you’re not going to have any personal space because that’s how we Latins are. You will get kisses from all the family members. Hugging you, kissing you all over, and then all the family comes, they all kiss you and say thank you,” Santoyo said, smiling.
“Our service trip to Peru last summer was one of the best parts of my doctoral education experience,” said DPT student Erin Morton. “It truly promotes cultural competency and an interdisciplinary learning environment. It was incredible to provide physical therapy services to the humble people of Yantaló.”
The patients were so happy for their care, and also to discover that Santoyo was a native son. There was no language barrier, Santoyo said, but when they spoke, “they sounded like they were singing.”
“As a native Peruvian, Eddie was critical to our team in terms of teaching us cultural competency, providing a personal connection to the population we are serving, and modeling the importance of giving back to your community,” Simms-Cendan said. “It was a pleasure to work with him last year and I am thrilled he is returning after graduation.”
Santoyo has a lot of plans post-graduation, including eventually opening his own clinic, and of course, joining other students for a return service trip to Yantaló.
“Eddie is a very driven, intelligent, and compassionate person who will make an excellent doctoral provider in physical therapy,” said Patrick Pabian, program director and clinical associate professor for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. “He is an excellent representative of the UCF Doctor of Physical Therapy program, and we are thrilled that he has taken the initiative to be a part of these outreach activities.”
By Camille Dolan ’98