Adaptability, Resiliency, and the FAME Family

By Volunteer Neurologist, Joyce Liporace

 
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As a neurologist in private practice in the United States for over 30 years, I have found that caring for patients involves ordering a lot of tests and imaging studies. I am dependent on MRI scan results to formulate a treatment plan for my patients. While I was unsure of myself and wondered if I had much to offer without these results, I decided to spend a month volunteering at FAME Medical near Karatu, Tanzania. As soon as I arrived, I respected and understood the value of FAME’s international volunteer program, which encourages participation in patient care and, more importantly, working side by side with FAME’s Tanzanian doctors and nurses to share experiences and skills.

One of my first clinic patients was a 39-year-old man who thought he was having fainting spells. His description of stereotyped events allowed me to confidently diagnose him with seizures. We reviewed the typical risk factors for epilepsy, which were all negative. However, during the examination, I asked him to remove the wool cap from his head and discovered a left frontal skull defect. Stoically, he disclosed that he had been the victim of a leopard attack at age 29, resulting in the removal of a piece of his skull. That was undeniably a novel seizure risk factor — and a perfect example of the resiliency of the Tanzanian people! Their ability to move on from injury or hardships is amazing and inspiring.

On the Inpatient Ward, I cared for a 50-year-old woman who was told that she was pregnant. The pregnancy seemed to be prolonged, so she came to FAME for another opinion. She was NOT pregnant. Instead, Dr. Badyana, one of 14 skilled doctors at FAME, removed an eight-kilogram ovarian mass. She was very pleased that she was not pregnant! This was a perfect example of the comprehensive care provided by FAME doctors. They are excellent diagnosticians (often with limited lab tests), medical providers for the full spectrum of life from neonatal care to geriatric care, and skilled surgeons! I am in awe of the breadth of their abilities and felt humbled to work alongside them.

I did not expect to form solid friendships in my short four weeks at FAME but I was wrong. I was welcomed by the entire staff at FAME — the doctors, nurses, receptionists, support staff and, of course, Dr. Frank and Mama Susan. One of the Tanzanian doctors, Dr. Lisso, even came to Arusha to meet my husband, Tim and son, Michael, when they arrived for our safari. While at FAME, I was honored to travel to Ngorongoro Crater to visit a Maasai village and spend time with FAME’s warmhearted social worker, Kitashu, and his family. That afternoon had a permanent impact on my understanding of other ways of life.

An unexpected pleasure during my time was getting to know other volunteers. I walked with Jen, a volunteer nurse in the Inpatient Ward, to Gibbs Farm to meet Kim and Tracy, a volunteer nurse practitioner who specializes in Diabetes and volunteer neonatal nurse, for a fabulous brunch, went to Sparrow for dinner, and hopped in a bajaji, a three-wheeled vehicle akin to a tuk tuk, with Kathrine, FAME’s communications coordinator, to go fabric shopping.

There are numerous challenges in providing medical care in a developing country. The unique team at FAME finds ways to overcome these hurdles on a daily basis. I will always be grateful for the chance to share my experiences and learn new skills with my FAME family. My voyage to FAME led me to new landscapes far from home, but it felt like familiar territory in just a matter of days.

 
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Robert Kovacs