by Volunteer Cardiologist, Dr. Reed Shnider
The 3 year old Maasai was likely deathly ill from the time that his family set out for FAME on a trip that was likely many hours. By the time they arrived he was in severe respiratory distress, minimally responsive, limp with a barely palpable pulse. His father, sensing his son’s grave condition passed him wordlessly to the nurses and doctors and sat silently at the end of the bed. We were called to help. Initial measures included IV fluids and oxygen, which were provided quickly as the history of his illness was obtained and comfort provided to his worried parents. It appeared likely that our little patient was suffering from a severe systemic infection . IV steroids, antibiotics, fluids and epinephrine were infused without delay. With no Pediatrician on site, contact was made with an overseas consultant, Dr. Rachel, who, being a veteran of several visits to FAME, was able to provide insight and additional recommendations, validating our impression and treatments. Shortly following her call, despite our best efforts, our new arrival suffered a respiratory arrest. CPR and respiratory support were initiated immediately. Medications given without delay. As if in anticipation of this course of events, we had completed a review of Advanced Life Support just the day before, and the team had learned admirably as evidenced by their efforts. Although it became clear that recovery was unlikely, no one was ready to give up. Even so, there came a time when it was clear that it was time to stop and I called the code as over. As I did, I realized that the father had been sitting at the foot of the bed the whole time quietly observing. Nurse Safi, the Ward Supervisor, and I led him to a quiet corner. We explained how sorry we were that we couldn’t save his son. The illness had weakened him too much, that sometimes even our strongest dawa (medication) and greatest efforts were not enough. As parents and grandparents we felt his loss and pain. I think Safi and I were both tearful at that point, waiting to hear what he had to say. He was quiet for a moment then spoke, “I brought him here because we knew that he was very sick, and we knew that you would do everything possible to make him well. I watched and saw that this was true. You have nothing to be sorry for. Thank you for working so hard to save him.”
I like writing about successes. Cases that make us happy. Cases that highlight how far we’ve come. But I realize that the essence of what makes FAME so special is also highlighted by stories like this one. How much the doctors and nurses wanted to save that 3 year old as if he were each one’s child. How painful the loss. How that feeling of caring was communicated wordlessly to the father who came so far to have his child cared for by very special people. How it made an immeasurably painful loss a little more bearable. That’s what I feel a part of when I come to FAME, that’s why I will keep coming.