Friday, April 11, 2008

Project HOPE in Liberia Week One in Review

Each morning when I open my eyes it’s still a little hard to comprehend that I am in Africa. But a step out my door unto the busy streets of Monrovia, and there is no mistake that I am far away from the rolling green hills of the Shenandoah Valley.

The streets of Monrovia are bustling with people walking, cars and trucks over-packed with passengers zipping down the crowded roads and motor bikes dangerously zipping in and out of traffic. I am beginning to get used to the constant honking of horns and elevated sounds of loud conversations. Women walk down the streets in brightly colored dresses and it is not uncommon to see baskets of fruit, nuts, sausages, even laundry and other daily essentials carried on top of their heads. Most of the buildings are destroyed or patched together as a result of a civil war that tore the country apart. Any building that is in half-decent condition is protected with rolls of barbwire or jagged pieces of glass attached to the top of concrete security walls. Directly across from our hotel, families live along a dirt road in shacks put together with whatever materials they can find.

Despite the poverty, there is energy about the city and in the people that hints at hope and possibilities. It's that hope of change that has motivated our 14 medical volunteers to leave the "luxury" of their modern day hospitals to work for two weeks in the now rundown and very tired looking open air hospital along Monrovia's Atlantic coast. For a week now, our volunteers have awakened early each morning to eat the only breakfast offered at our hotel-- eggs, a piece of thinly sliced ham, a "hot dog" style sausage, cold white toast and instant coffee. They grab an essential bottle of water and make the short walk down a pot-holed laden road to the gate of JFK Hospital where they quickly disperse into their departments. Some work in the main building, the Pharmacy, ER, Medical Unit, Pediatric Unit and X-ray and Ultrasound departments. Others work in the Maternity building which houses Labor and Delivery, Post Surgery Patients, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Neonatal Unit.

This week they have witnessed severe traumas, deaths, infections not commonly seen in the United States. They’ve seen patients denied care for days because of lack of money, met babies living in the emergency room and pediatric units because they have been abandon by parents. They’ve also participated in births, received lots of thanks, smiles and hugs and made lasting connections with their medical counterparts.

They return to the hotel tired each evening and soaked in sweat from the heat of the day. Despite the dire circumstances, they remain positive, enthusiastic and ready to return the next morning to do what they can do help heal patients and restore the JFK Hospital to its pre-war status.

After just the first week of work, Project HOPE volunteers working alongside their counterparts have cared for hundreds of patients. I remain in awe of their commitment to their profession, their compassion for their patients and their willingness to adapt to these harsh conditions.

Here are some highlights from week one:

Dianne Bennett a nurse practitioner spent the week working in the Intensive Care and Burn Units, bringing smiles and encouraging healing to the many children in the department. Using minimal supplies, she cleaned and changed dressings of young children recovering from typhoid perforation surgery, burns and car accidents. But mostly, she offered her counterparts and example of compassionate care and made lots of friends. Cherri Dobson has spent a very hot week working in the unairconditioned and closed-in neonatal ICU unit. There she has been monitoring and caring for two premature babies. She has also made an impression on several full-term babies, placed who prefer Cherri’s caring arms to their cribs. Mary Jo Doerr, a nurse educator spent the week working with staff and patients in the medical unit. Her engaging smile and upbeat personality won the trust of her counterparts as they worked side by side treating patients and assessing professional education needs of the department. She also had the rare opportunity of monitoring two adult tetanus patients. Mary Kennedy, Amy Bream and Dr. Allen Webb spent long hours in the crowded and intense Emergency room. They worked with JFK staff to treat car accident patients, patients with broken bones, life-threatening infections and more. David Meador, Jr., a biomedical repair technician brought smiles to many in the hospital with his fix it skills. He's repaired an ultrasound machine, x-ray printer, pulse oximeters to name a few. His contribution has made immediate impact on patient care at JFK. With help from David, Nabil Messiah an ultrasound technician, has also made an immediate impact on patient care by coordinating the repair of a modern ultrasound machine. After discovering the machine among donated items to JFK, Nabil immediately found a very rare air-conditioned room in the hospital to house the equipment, and negotiated to have a table moved in for examinations. He has already performed 23 ultrasounds on patients. Marina Rivera, a radiography tech has spent a busy week making friends and mentoring the seven member x-ray team. Mixing education with patient encounters, she and her captivated team conducted 86 X-rays in two days. Earl Rogers, a Pharmacist has spent his week working one on one with the Chief of Pharmacy at JFK. He is helping to assess systems to develop a better method for tracking incoming medical supplies and large shipments of drugs. He also discovered a poorly working refrigerator in the ER satellite pharmacy, and with the help of David, he is having the refrigerator repaired to ensure pharmaceuticals that need to stay cold will be properly stored. Gabrielle Seibel, a pediatric nurse practitioner worked in the pediatric unit as well as outpatient clinic, helping the staff organize its charting methods and working with children suffering from Malaria, Meningitis and other diseases. In addition to treatment and working with staff, Gabrielle’s supply of stickers and small toys have brought some fun and laughter into the department. Joel Trinidad, an ER nurse has been working with his counterpart and visiting other nurses to plan for an ambitious schedule of education classes next week. Nancy Ward and Margaret Canter have been working in the prenatal clinic and labor and delivery ward and yesterday had the opportunity to deliver two babies.

Next week, the volunteers will turn their attention to a full schedule of health education classes that have been developed as a result of a week or treatment and assessment in individual departments. Enjoy these photos of volunteers at work.

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