Patient Stories from July 2010 Mission to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

August 5, 2010

Dr. Cindy Weller, Nicole Cromwell, RN and Wanda Hartigan, RN surrounded by the sweetest children in Tanzania

Nicole Cromwell RN, Lead Recovery Room Nurse on our recent mission to Tanzania shares the stories of several of the 38 patients whose lives were changed on this mission.

Upendo Nibigira is a 6 year old girl with a bilateral cleft lip deformity.  Her family fled Burundi in 1972 and has lived in a refugee camp in Mpanda, Tanzania ever since.  They traveled by bus for 3 long days for to get her surgery.  Upendo is a very quiet, shy, and reserved little girl because of her deformity.  Her mother tells us that the other children made fun of her and teased her all the time.  Now that her lip is repaired, her mother says that she will be accepted by other children. She hopes for a better future for her child.

Tanzania is located on the coast of East Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world.  There is an enormous shortage of doctors and health care- only ONE doctor for every 26,000 people, a staggering statistic.  The life expectancy is only 51 years old.

We work at a hospital called CCBRT, or Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (www.ccbrt.or.tz).  This facility is incredible- they repair club feet, insert shunts for hydrocephalis, perform much needed VVF surgery, and do extensive rehab therapy for children born with spina bifida.  The staff is incredibly efficient and do about 20-30 surgeries a day, despite the fact that the equipment is basic and antiquated.

Our typical day here starts with the pick up at our hotel at 7 a.m. sharp.  We have a short ten minute drive down the side streets to the hospital where we are always warmly greeted by staff and families.  We start right away by checking the children from the previous days’ surgery, making sure everyone is recovering well and isn’t in too much pain.  The CCBRT nursing staff does an incredible job monitoring and caring for our patients.  Next, we consult with the Doctors and nurses to plan the day’s schedule.  Weights, blood levels, and general health are discussed.  Each patient is then examined thoroughly by our Anesthesiologists and then prepped for surgery.  Our operating nurse extraordinaire Wanda Hartigan, RN is already hard at work setting up the OR for the day.  Dr. Denny Snyder soon goes in, works his magic, and before you know it the patient is ready for me in the recovery room!  After the child is sufficiently recovered, they are off to the ward to be comforted by their family.  The parent almost always stands back to admire the results with their hands clasped together over their heart.  One of the nurses told me that when they do this it symbolizes extreme gratefulness.  You cannot imagine the shock, joy and tears these parents display seeing their child for the first time after surgery.

Kibula Nibizi is an 8 year old boy who also traveled from the Mpanda refugee camp.  Like Upendo, his parents also fled war torn Burundi in 1972 and have lived there ever since.  Kibula is extremely shy and hides his face every time we approach him.  His father tells us that he was very scared to come here for the surgery but now, although still very shy, is very happy to have his new lip.  He is one of 8 children- there were 10 but 2 have died.  His father is very happy and grateful for the work that we were able to do and is also hopeful for a better life for his son.  Kibula opened up a little more each day and by the last day of our trip, he was smiling, made new friends, and even helped us pack our bags!  The transformation was amazing…

By our second week most of the children from the first week of work were still there.  At most other sites the children go home after a day or two so to be able to see them one week post op was a real treat for us.  They are well on their way to healing by then and everyone is pretty happy with new smiles everywhere.

Perhaps our most famous patient from Tanzania is Tobias.  He has a type 3 cleft deformity and was profiled in our video from last year.  We were all surprised and happy to see him here for a one year post op check.  His mother reports that the surgery has completely changed not only Tobias’ life, but her own and every other member of their family.   When Tobias was born, his mother thought for sure he would die from his defect.  Her family shunned her and just didn’t understand why he was born this way.  Tobias’ mother brought him to a hospital in the countryside of Morogoro.  By chance, there was a woman there that had heard of us and told his mother to come to CCBRT.  She was unsure if we could really help her son but now is so incredibly grateful for what we have done for him.  Tobias is a very different child than he was one year ago.  His mother tells us that he is able to eat better, has gained a lot of weight, crawls and has even starting to walk.  She says he’s a much happier child and is now treated the same as other children in his community.

The difference in these children’s lives not only affects them, but their families, and the community around them.  These children, however poor they may be, now have a chance at a better life because of Medical Missions for Children.

Nicole lives in San Jose, CA and hosts a fabulous west coast fundraiser for MMFC every spring.  If you would like more information, or can help by attending, donating or joining her committee, please contact her directly at nicole.cromwell@mmfc.org.

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