Beating the Odds - Hope and Survival in Rural Tanzania

Namunyaki and her son, Julius, on discharge day

Namunyaki and her son, Julius, on discharge day

When tetanus develops, mortality rates are extremely high, especially when appropriate medical care is not available. Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) has been among the most common life threatening consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices, and are indicators of inequity in access to immunization and other maternal, newborn, and child health services. "With no cure, MNT is responsible for an average 110,000 deaths a year in the African Region. Once contracted, the newborn usually dies within seven days." (World Health Organization).

Julius's survival was a miracle made possible by the FAME team.

Eight-day-old Julius arrived at FAME in late September with severe tetanus, his fists clenched and back arched. Even minimal stimulus caused him to become more rigid. Like his three siblings, Julius had been born at home in his mother’s Maasai village. His mother, Namunyaki, had not experienced prenatal care – a vital component of maternal care that would have included a tetanus immunization to protect her and her newborn. It was a very challenging case, yet our medical team was determined to do their best to save Julius. They began by administering tetanus immunoglobulin and multiple drugs to alleviate his muscle spasms. As Julius was unable to breastfeed in his current condition, the nursing staff gave him Namunyaki’s expressed breast milk by nasogastric tube. For two and a half weeks Julius remained in critical condition, requiring large doses of medication to keep his spasms under control. Yet, Namunyaki, buoyed by the advice and encouragement of our doctors, stayed hopeful.

Little by little Julius showed signs of improvement and was slowly and carefully weaned off the medications. After nearly a month of care, Julius was finally able to breastfeed. This was a huge save for our team. As Namunyaki and Julius were being discharged, they received their first tetanus shots and will return to FAME to complete their immunizations. Namunyaki and her family were so grateful to our staff for the care they received. On parting, Namunyaki remarked: “I will be a good ambassador for FAME. I am so happy to see my baby doing well that I will tell my village that FAME is the hospital to go to.” Julius is alive and healthy because of the incredible work done at FAME through our staff and a network of global supporters.

Robert Kovacs