Posts in Volunteer Entries
It’s who we are. It’s why we’re here.
Nurse Siana Nkya and Safi Mbwambo in the OR

Nurse Siana Nkya and Safi Mbwambo in the OR

By Volunteer Nurse Practitioner Brad Snyder

It’s being a chameleon, becoming whoever the person you’re with needs you to be. It’s waking up everyday knowing that undoubtedly you will change a life and in return have yours changed. It’s pushing yourself to new limits, frequently on the edge of comfort as you try your best to fix and heal the person in front of you. It’s brainstorming at the bedside with a team of gifted clinicians trying to figure out the cause of a man’s internal bleeding as his blood counts continue to drop. It’s checking on a 1 day old then suddenly grabbing the oxygen and performing a resuscitation when he changes without any warning. It’s coming together in a moment’s notice and becoming one skilled unit, fighting the battle to keep a little life alive. It’s winning the battle.

It’s watching a doctor’s skill as he diagnoses cardiac anomalies with an echo or saves a woman from bleeding out during a complicated C-section. It’s opening books and crunching numbers as you try to solve a medical mystery alongside other uncertain fighters pulling deep on dusty knowledge and experience. It’s coming to a solution while vulnerably admitting that you’re not 100% certain of this plan, but it’s the best we can do with what we have. It’s feeling the slight relief of a definitive partnership amidst ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s seeing a nurse take peanut butter and a spoon into the room of a patient with severe burns and watching her patiently give one spoon at a time. It’s looking into her  determined eyes as she says, “I know I can’t fix the burns but this is what I can do, so I’m doing it.” It’s feeling a rush of compassion flow through your body.

It’s a nurse’s poignant assessment as she picks up danger signs in pregnancy and prevents a catastrophe. It’s giving a woman a chance to be a mother, one of life’s greatest gifts. It’s a counselor gently comforting a suicidal woman buried deep in a cloud of depression with the fear of no way out. It’s giving her a glimpse of light and the possibility that this doesn’t have to last forever. It’s walking into a room as a midwife with experience twice as long as you’ve been alive turns the breech baby of a woman in active labor. It’s hearing the cry of a healthy baby and taking a collective sigh of relief. It’s feeling grateful to have such skilled, passionate people on your team.

It’s hearing the gentle humming of a mother who just lost her 6-year old to a battle against sickle cell disease. It’s walking outside with a father as he holds back tears surrounded by family and friends and giving him a safe space to feel whatever he needs to feel. It’s being a quiet presence as he sobs in your arms in a moment of utter grief and disbelief. It’s realizing that pain like this can only be felt by others who have experienced such a profound loss.

It’s staying up through the night diligently monitoring two premature babies as they struggle to survive in an incubator instead of the safety of their mother’s womb. It’s reading neonatology articles, emailing colleagues and adapting guidelines to what we can do here. It’s watching mothers give their babies life-saving breast milk to keep their tiny bodies growing. It’s praying that it all works out. It’s going home and preparing to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow. It’s holding onto hope. It’s who we are. It’s why we’re here.

Oh, how things have changed
If you build it, they will come
Dr. Mark and Dr. Monica with one of the triplets

Dr. Mark and Dr. Monica with one of the triplets

Although that quote was most famously related to a baseball field in “Field of Dreams”, it applies to the Obstetric unit at FAME Medical as well. We first came to volunteer at FAME in December 2014, just a few months after the opening of the new unit. During our 2 week visit, we assisted in 2 deliveries and 2 hysterectomies. We also saw patients with the FAME doctors in the outpatient clinic. Although we didn’t have as many operative teaching opportunities as we had hoped, we both were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the doctors and staff and their genuine desire to gain as much clinical information as we could provide. We planned to be back for another visit as soon as we could arrange it.

In the same way that this blog was going to be sent to Susan within 2 weeks (it’s now been 6!), our next opportunity had to be delayed until we could schedule it in December 2016. Oh, how things have changed!

Whereas we had only 2 deliveries in 2 weeks in 2014, there are now more than 40 per month. The reputation of the staff and facility have spread so quickly that new facilities are being built for maternal and child health, and plans are being developed for a maternity wing that would include space for antepartum admissions as well as postpartum care. In this two week visit, we assisted the FAME doctors with several Cesarean deliveries, including for the mother who had the first Cesarean delivery at FAME returning for her repeat Cesarean. Another was for a mother with spontaneous triplets diagnosed only three weeks before she presented to FAME at 32 weeks with leaking fluid. (One week later, all three babies were gaining weight and were able to go home, thanks to a donor who funded formula to supplement her breast milk primary feedings.) We had the opportunity to participate in several other surgeries as well, tubal ligations, cervical cerclage, myomectomies: we began to wonder what we had wished for in 2014!

The donations that allow FAME to continue to expand have also funded an infant warmer, without which many babies might not have survived. The most astounding example is the infant born at least 12 weeks early (may have been more like 15 weeks early, as gestational age is sometimes difficult to document in Tanzania) who weighed <500 grams (1 lb 1.5 oz) at birth. We were blessed to be there the day the little one surpassed the 1 kg milestone! That is a miracle anywhere in the world, even more so in rural Tanzania. There isn’t a way to describe the joy in the mother’s smile as the nurse showed her the baby’s weight on the scale.

Which brings us to the best part of our visit – the staff! We knew the doctors we had met two years before had been enthusiastic to learn, but we didn’t have the opportunity to work then with the nursing staff as much. The staff in the “Operating Theater” wanted to review proper scrub procedures, the maternity staff sought information on post-partum hemorrhage, the staff in the outpatient clinic asked about cervical cancer screening, the doctors questioned surgical techniques…. We have never met a group of people so dedicated to the work they have chosen and so intent on improving their own abilities so that the care they provide is the best it can be. The new doctors and nurses added to the staff are just as enthusiastic as the “veterans” from our first visit.

It is truly humbling to help take care of more exceptionally high risk patients in 2 weeks than we would see in months, if not years, in the U.S. Two women presented with eclamptic seizures and several more with severe hypertension in pregnancy, one with a severe shoulder dystocia at delivery, another with post-partum bleeding, a case of infection after a miscarriage…. And the doctors at FAME take it in stride. Cases like these can intimidate anyone, even when the best facilities in the world are available. Watching the staff at FAME provide excellent care in creative ways, using the available equipment, is amazing.

We can’t wait to see what they are able to accomplish by the time we return next! Best wishes to the entire FAME family in 2017, with profound thanks to all of the friends and donors who have helped make FAME possible.

Dr. Monica Norwick
Dr. Mark LaRose
Waconia MN, USA

A Shuka, A Goat and Two Chickens
Martina presents Dr. Duane with a Shuka

Martina presents Dr. Duane with a Shuka

By Nancy Allard

Thanksgiving came a little early this year at FAME. One of our former patients paid us a visit. Some of you may remember Martina, a patient who came to FAME in 2014 with second and third degree burns over 35% of her body, some already infected. She ended up spending the next 342 days in FAME’s inpatient ward fighting for her life and being cared for by our team. Well, Martina got word that visiting surgeon, Dr. Duane Koenig, had returned to FAME Medical for another volunteer stint and she wanted to personally thank him for the central role he played in saving her life. You see, Dr. Duane is the one who brought skin grafting to FAME Medical, donating the equipment and training his Tanzanian colleagues in the procedure.  He personally performed hours and hours of grafting on Martina and was very often at her side during the multiple dressing changes and debridements that followed.  And in his face she saw someone completely and absolutely unwilling to give up on her. By the time Martina was finally discharged, Dr. Duane had already returned home to Nebraska. Having graciously thanked the others involved in her care, she still had not been able to “properly” thank the man whose face gave her hope thru her darkest moments, until two weeks ago when she and her husband received word of his return.


How to thank someone who saved your life?  How about a shuka, a goat and two chickens -- that was Martina’s gift to her friend Dr. Duane. And his response, “Thank you. I would have gone to hell and back for you. I don’t need anything. My reward is to see you beautiful and smiling.” It was an extraordinary moment, one filled with joy, smiles and laughter - a magical moment between a patient and a doctor who share a special bond for life. 

Happy Thanksgiving to our generous supporters and partners, who continue to pave the way for powerful moments like these between patients and doctors at FAME Medical.  We are forever grateful to be sharing this journey WITH you.


Martina and her husband gift Dr. Duane with two chickens

Martina and her husband gift Dr. Duane with two chickens

Helping Those With Chronic Disease At FAME Medical
Dr. Joyce and Rizwani at work in the lab&nbsp;

Dr. Joyce and Rizwani at work in the lab 

by Volunteer, Dr. Joyce Cuff

We continue to see a wide variety of patients at FAME Medical. Not only are there lots more patients coming to FAME, they now range from the very healthy and just checking category, to the comatose and at death's door group. I rejoice in the increasing number of patients being monitored for chronic or life-style diseases. For the most part, these are otherwise healthy people whose clotting time is being monitored to prevent stroke or other cardio-vascular complications, whose blood sugar needs to be and can be controlled, whose lipids are being monitored and controlled, or whose thyroid levels are monitored periodically to keep them functioning well. These are conditions that, even 5-10 years ago would remain unmonitored and possibly even undetected, as many are asymptomatic until you're in real trouble. Being controlled and being monitored before an incident occurs increases the likelihood that they will not become clinical or critical. Of course, with so many more patients in dire straights when they arrive, we are unable to save them all. That is a harsh reality that cannot be changed. But the miracles continue to abound and astound.

The Long Road to Health

By Angel Hertslet

Six-year old Allan came to FAME a few weeks ago with a serious medical issue: he could not swallow food.

Most of us count eating food as one of the great joys in life, and how easy it is to take it for granted. Although Allan greeted the medical team with smiles and laughter, his situation was grave: he weighed only 22 pounds (10 kilos), the weight of a healthy one-year old. To complicate things, his small malnourished body was suffering from chest rattling pneumonia.

FAME Medical treated Allan for his pneumonia and started him on nutritional support. After a few days of charming the doctors and nurses, he was stable enough to return home. Yet Allan’s esophagus was still constricted and only a complex surgery could address this congenital problem. FAME Medical began the search for someone who could operate on Allan, sending emails to the extended family of FAME supporters.

Luckily, a few people were well positioned to help him. The first was a doctor in Arusha who had seen Allan before and knew of his need for esophageal surgery. A specialized pediatric surgeon from Finland came to volunteer at her hospital, so she called FAME and invited Allan to return for surgery. The second was an anonymous donor, well aware of his situation, who committed to helping him get the best care possible. It would be remiss not to mention Brad, the nurse practitioner at FAME, and Angel, the social worker, both of whom took on the responsibility of traveling with Allan and his mother to Arusha to support and advocate for the family. I also traveled to Arusha, and serendipitously, had the same blood type (and arguably the same attitude) as Allan: B positive. His mother Mary and I both donated in case he needed a transfusion during the procedure due to complications.

In some cases, an esophagus can be dilated with a balloon or by other means (my grandmother recently had such a surgery), but after laparoscopically exploring Allan’s esophagus, it was clear it could be addressed only through removal of the strictureand resectioning the esophagus to the stomach. The FAME team reviewed possible outcomes with the specialist and guided the decision that it was too dangerous to perform the partial esophagectomy on his compromised body. He needed to build strength to endure the removal of the portion of his esophagus. Operating in his malnourished state could have lead to the worst outcome of all.

As a means to an end, the surgeon inserted a feeding tube, or G-tube, into his stomach, allowing for nutrients to bypass his uncooperative esophagus and enter his stomach directly. I spent some time with Allan and Mary post-surgery and felt such compassion for them. He was clearly in a lot of pain and his mother was doing all she could to soothe him. This feeding tube, while clearly an essential step to improving his nutrition, I knew would be a big adjustment for both of them.

A few days later, Brad and I joined up with the team at Rift Valley Children’s Village (RVCV) to check up on Allan. Another conspiring actor, RVCV, in addition to contracting FAME to provide medical care to the orphanage and community thru a mobile medical service, also provides daily health support, follow-up and education to the community, where Allan and Mary live.
The RVCV nurse, social worker, and nutritionist worked alongside Brad and I to educate Mary about how to feed Allan through the G-tube. You can imagine the joy on all our faces when with our help, Mary mixed together the ingredients to make F-100, a therapeutic milk designed to treat severe malnutrition, and fed it to Allan through the G-tube. “Nice job!” Allan exclaimed in Swahili, and offered his mom a high five.

The right to a healthy life may be universal, but the road to getting there certainly isn’t. Allan isn’t healthy yet, but his future is looking much brighter. He has a short-term solution that is allowing him to properly gain weight and build strength for the first time in six years. He has RVCV within walking distance, and FAME Medical a short drive away. Most of all, he has his dedicated mother who so demonstrably loves him.  She is doing everything in her power to nurture Allan to health.

At some point in the next year or two, Allan will be strong enough for a life changing surgery. He will wake up groggy in bed, free of his G-tube, with his mom nearby. He will take a few weeks to heal. And then, he will sit down to the first proper meal of his life. May the tears of joy – and not of hunger – flow that day.