Jungles of Peru Provided a Learning Experience

Photo of Kathryn Snyder

Kathryn Snyder (left) tested patients’ glucose levels and also screened them for diabetes during her internship with the U.S. Navy’s infectious disease lab in Iquitos, Peru. Photo provided

By Damian Cristodero

For Kathryn Snyder, her internship last summer at the U.S. Navy’s infectious disease lab in Iquitos, Peru, provided a trove of ice-breaking conversation starters.

Did you know that Iquitos—population 422,000—is the world’s largest city not accessible by road? It’s in the heart of the Amazon rainforest at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers. Piranhas are part of the local diet.

And on an overnight trip to the jungle, in which her group stayed in a lodge with a thatched roof and a generator that provided electricity for only two hours a day, the uninvited guests were some pretty large spiders.

“I screamed so much I felt bad for everybody,” Snyder said.

Most memorable, though, for the George Mason University junior neuroscience major, were her two months of work in which she helped research better treatments for malaria.

Snyder, part of George Mason’s Honors College, worked with doctors on patient intake, interviews and diagnosis. Her follow-up research preliminarily showed “that individuals who live farther away from the city center or economic hubs are more likely to have malaria relapses.”

On assignment in the nearby Loreto district, Snyder did glucose tests and screened people for diabetes.

“It was amazing to be able to work in the field I’m most passionate about,” said Snyder, whose ambition is to be a military physician with emphasis on infectious diseases or family medicine because both “involve a lot more patient time, working with individuals.”

“I’ve always been drawn to service and helping other people and being the person who can serve others,” Snyder said. “[The internship] was an opportunity to do that.”

Snyder’s trip was funded through Mason’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.

The thing is, military research labs don’t generally give such positions to civilians. But Snyder did her homework and forged an email relationship with Chris Daniel, the senior advisor for global health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

After they met in November 2014 at the Global Security Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Daniel put in a good word.

Photo of Kathryn Snyder

Kathryn Snyder. Photo provided

“She was a bright, young student who showed interest and initiative,” Daniel said. “There’s no reason not to keep your eye out for young, potential successors and leaders in global health and military medicine.”

Said Paul Delamater, a Mason professor of geography and geoinformation science, and Snyder’s advisor: “Her passion is evident.”

So much so that Snyder was willing to live in a city in which the only access is by boat or plane, and which is near the jungle that seemed to go out of its way to stoke her spider phobia.

“You could hear monkeys outside all night, and that was really cool,” she said of the overnight in the jungle with her research team. “But starting at certain times at night, spiders and bugs would come out—inside, outside, everywhere.”

Now, about that piranha she had for dinner.