Thursday, May 1, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteer Team Two Liberia Wrap-Up

The second team of Project HOPE volunteers completed their work at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, in April, but the results and reflections from the volunteers are still coming in. By the time Project HOPE volunteers left JFK, the 14 member medical team participated in a total of 645 patient encounters, serviced or repaired 13 pieces of medical equipment and presented health education seminars and workshops to 270 JFK health care workers. But more than numbers, they formed lasting friendships and bonds with the JFK staff and patients. And even on their long journey home most wanted to know, “When we can do this again?” Read some of their success stories…..

Cherri Dobson, a neonatal intensive care nurse from Brentwood, CA worked in the small, very hot neonatal unit while at JFK. Lacking all the advantages of technology that premature babies in the United States have, Cherri spent a lot of her time syringe feeding a 30 week, premature infant with his mother’s breast milk, one drop at a time. She also conducted several neonatal resuscitation and newborn baby care and assessment classes. After one class, she witnessed the meaning of health education on JFK staff. “There was an EKG tech who worked at the hospital for 20 years. She was not scheduled for one of our courses, but asked permission to attend. After all Project HOPE workshops participants were given certificates of participation, I found her out in the hallway with tears streaming down her face,” Cherri said. “After all the time I have been here and all the classes I have attended, I have never been recognized for my work,” she told Cherri. Cherri participated in hands-on care with 16 of the smallest patients at JFK.

Jo Doerr, a nurse educator from Six Lakes, MI worked in the medical ward of the hospital. After completing an interactive class with nurses aids, Jo received a compliment to HOPE when one of the aides asked, “When are you coming back to teach us more?” Jo participated in hands-on care with 36 medical ward patients and conducted several training course for nurses and nurses aides.

Jo and Cherri also participated in a book donation ceremony at the hospital. Volunteers donated nearly $1,000 worth of medical books from their personal collections. The text books, reference guides, ICU management books, pocket guides, drug manuals and CD ROMs were very much appreciated and timely according to the JFK nursing instructors who accepted the books. “The timing could not have been better,” Dr. McDonald, JFK administrator, told the volunteers. “Our next session of nursing school starts in May.”

Nabil Messiah, an ultrasound tech from Martinsburg, WV, with the help of volunteer David Meador made a lasting change at JFK by fixing an ultrasound machine, arranging a good space to keep machine and procuring an examination table. Still Nabil wanted to more. “The examination table was too high for patients to get up on,” he said. So Nabil had a wooden stool made for the patients while in Liberia and left the stool at the hospital for use long term. While at JFK, Nabil helped perform 115 ultrasounds.

Earl Rogers, a Pharmacist from Richmond, VA, was the mission’s longest serving alumni. Earl served on the SS HOPE in it’s 1972 mission to Natal Brazil and served two volunteer missions in the 1990s to Russian and Ukraine to help set up pharmaceutical systems for the newly independent states. After teaching a seminar to pharmacy students and pharmacy dispensers at JFK, Earl was asked loads of questions. At the completion of the workshop, one of the pharmacy students stood up and gave a formal thank you speech. The class also showed their appreciation with a clapping ceremony symbolizing Earl’s long lasting influence on the group. Chief of Pharmacy, Livinius Ujah explained, “When the wind first starts to blow through a tree, the leaves began to rustle slowly. But as the wind works its way through the trees, soon all the leaves are moving vigorously.” Together the class slowly started clapping their hands until they finished in a fast loud crescendo.

Marina Rivera, a radiology tech from Fountain, CO, probably had the hardest time saying goodbye to her group of counterparts, the eight X-ray techs at the JFK hospital. From day one, Marina was welcomed with eager enthusiasm. While the team conducted 268 x-rays in the time she was there, they never lost their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. A couple of hot afternoons, Marina treated the crew to a short break outside the hospital for cold sodas. On her last day, they showed their thanks by presenting Marina with a green African dress. “We remember everything you taught us,” they assured her. “But we want you to come back.”

Gabrielle Seibel, a nurse educator from Seattle, WA, who worked in the Pediatric ward, was also presented with a hand made African outfit and formal ceremony on her last day at JFK. The staff also proudly showed her the growth charts they had ordered after Gabrielle's presentation on the importance of growth monitoring of children. They also laminated and posted the childhood vital signs chart Gabrielle donated to the department. Gabrielle worked with 42 pediatric patients at JFK.

Nurse Midwives Margaret Canter, from Tallahassee, FL, and Nancy Ward, from Huntingtown, MD, had a week to remember, delivering nearly a dozen babies and working with 63 labor and delivery patients. The first baby Margaret delivered was actually the grandchild of one of the midwives at JFK. Together, the two worked side by side with the labor and delivery staff, modeling compassionate care of laboring women in less than ideal birthing circumstance. In addition to hands-on mentoring, Margaret and Nancy participated in a workshop teaching midwives better techniques for gathering patient information and more accurate pregnancy dating techniques.

Amy Bream, an ER nurse from Denver, CO, and Mary Kennedy, a nurse educator from East Bridgewater, MA, spent two tough weeks in the emergency room of the hospital, helping with severe trauma cases. “I have been a trauma coordinator in the ER for many years in city hospitals, and I have seen a lot of trauma,” Mary said. “But this is one of the poorest places I have been so far. People only come in here with serious stuff.” One patient Amy and Mary will not forget is Darius. After helping the boy obtain the treatment he needed, Amy and Diane posed for a picture with their young patient. “Like everyone else here, he asked to see the photograph after we took it,” Mary said. “But instead of just looking at it, he pulled the camera screen to his face and kissed it and thanked us. The work here we have done has been overwhelming at times,” she added. “And while sometimes you can’t change much, you can see that change can happen with just one person.” Together with Dr. Allen Webb, Amy and Mary worked with 69 ER patients and conducted several important trauma training sessions.

David Meador, a biomedical tech from Wheaton, IL, also had a challenging week in one of the hottest sections of the JFK Hospital. “This has been such a humbling experience,” he said. “At home I’m used to fixing things and I have resources to fix things and get it fixed. It’s just a matter of going through the process. Here they start in the hole, with a broken piece of equipment. They don’t have service literature, parts, supplies or even the Internet or telephone. Still they are expected to keep the equipment running.” Despite the challenges, David was able to make progress repairing an Ultrasound machine, that was put to use immediately, a portable x-ray printer, several pulse oximeters, a fetal doppler machine and several Blood Pressure monitors and crib. David also left behind some of the batteries, fuses and other parts and equipment he brought with him in three 70 pound suitcases. “These are some of the most patient people I have every worked with they manage to keep a positive attitude in technically crushing circumstances,” David said of the biomed staff he worked with at the JFK Hospital. “The people are so appreciative when you fix something. These folks are really working in extreme conditions and I have a real appreciation for what they are doing.” David said he plans to continue helping the JFK biomedical staff from the States. “I will email them back and forth with lots of information…as soon as they get email and probably wind up making them care packages.”

Dianne Bennett, a pediatric nurse practitioner from Miami, Fl, and Amy Bream were favorites in the Pediatric ICU, taking lots of time to talk with patients, provide compassionate care, play and offer one on one attention to the JFK’s smallest patients. “Pediatric ICU is a very serious setting at JFK,” Dianne said. “Imagine no screens for privacy, and small children seeing and observing all the dressing changes and other procedures going on right in front of them. These little eyes are seeing a lot. If I can find a way to add a little bit of laughter, a caring touch and a few smiles to their day, I think it’s healing.” Amy also found the patients inspiring. “After working in the emergency room, I enjoyed working in pediatrics,” Amy said. “It’s strange, even though the kids are in ICU, I’ve never seen one cry. They are so happy to see you, so we smile and hug and dance sometimes hand out candy. Even the parents are happy to see us. It’s a lift for me, before going back to the ER.” Amy and Dianne also taught several well-received health education courses to nursing staff employees at the hospital. Project HOPE volunteers provided hands-on care for 36 pediatric ICU and burn center patients.

Dr. Allen Webb, an ER physician from St. Michaels, MD served as the Chief Medical Officer on the mission. He worked with the administration of the John F. Kennedy Hospital, and worked with Joel Trinidad, Chief Nursing Officer on the mission to turn volunteer assessments into critically needed educational courses. He also met with Liberia’s Minister Of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Gwenigale, who happened to be an old friend of Dr. Webb. “We reminisced together about our previous working experience in Liberia over 20 years ago. Dr. Gwenigale expressed his appreciation for the team’s mission and hopes there will be more teams returning to JFK.” Dr. Webb said. Dr. Webb spent much of his time working in the emergency room and also led a class on wound care and suturing to some eager to learn nurses. “The mission to Liberia was difficult and challenging because Liberia has had a prolonged civil war that has devastated the infrastructure and seriously set backs the medical system,” he said. “There is a shortage of physicians and teachers of physicians that makes it very difficult to take care of the enormous medical needs of the population. The Project HOPE team assessed the most critical needs at JFK Medical Center and specifically addressed those most basic critical needs in the educational sessions. A very important first step toward improved health care in Liberia was taken by the HOPE team.”

Joel Trinidad, a nurse educator from Wenonah, NJ served as the Chief Nursing Officer on the mission and spent his time rounding the entire hospital, working with volunteers and assessing how to best conduct the educational courses. With the volunteers, he helped plan seminars addressing the most pressing needs of the JFK staff including Nursing Leadership, Critical Thinking and Documentation course, Burn Trauma: Resuscitation & Wound Care course, Trauma Assessment & Care: Head, Spine & Orthopedic Injuries, Gestational Age Training, IV Therapy, Use, and Management, Diabetes and Hypertension and Mental Illness Management. Afternoon on-site workshops in the units included Trauma Rounds/Case Studies, Medical Emergency Rounds/Case Studies, Nurse Aides Rounds/Skill s Review, Wound Care, Newborn Initial Assessment, Pediatric Initial Assessment and Adult Initial Assessment. A five-time volunteer for Project HOPE, Joel said, “I didn’t have as much hands-on patient care as I usually do on Project HOPE missions. But instead, I got a more thorough view of the overall success of the mission. Our volunteers were wonderful and I am sure the results of their mentoring and health education classes will be felt around JFK for a long-time to come.”

Help support other Project HOPE humanitarian assistance and health education missions around the world

--Melanie Mullinax

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