Founded in 2002, by husband and wife team Dr. Frank Artress and Susan Gustafson, FAME is changing the face of healthcare delivery in Northern Tanzania. Our 78 dedicated Tanzanian healthcare professionals are filling the gap between an acutely under-resourced government health care system and for-profit medical facilities that are beyond the means of the average person in our area. By bridging this gap, the FAME team is ensuring that the most under-served communities have access to excellent patient-centered care. FAME now serves more than 25,000 patients annually. We have strong ties with our regional communities and have contributed significantly to improving health outcomes and saving lives.
At FAME, our strategy has been to identify equipment that provides the most valuable information for the greatest number of patients and for the most critical conditions we see, while still remaining cognizant of the constraints of modern machinery. Two pieces of equipment that have proven their value over time are the Hematology machine and the Electrolyte machine. The FAME laboratory has been in operation since 2011 and these two machines have been in operation every day since. However, both are reaching their end of life. In order to assure our clinical team has the tools they need to diagnose and monitor often life threatening disease, we urgently need to replace both of these critical pieces of equipment.
In addition, a third piece of equipment, the MiniVidas machine that measures blood hormone levels among other things, is reaching the end of its service life. This machine is critical due to the surgical care we are now able to provide and the increase in patients with chronic conditions at FAME.
The Hematology machine provides the greatest amount of information for our doctors. It provides a complete blood profile that helps to determine whether a person has an infection and whether the infection is bacterial, viral, or parasitic. It reveals anemias and leukemias and whether a patients's platelet count is low, indicating a clotting problem. It has become the most used piece of equipment in the lab; doctors order a complete blood profile for over 75% of the patients being seen in the lab.
Gracie was six years old when we first met her. She was obviously sick, presenting with a variety of nonspecific symptoms. The CBC revealed a highly elevated lymphocyte count. This led to further testing and a consultation with pathologists in the US confirmed the diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. Gracie was brought to Tanzania's only cancer treatment center, 10 hours by car from FAME. She was successfully treated and returned with her family to her home near Karatu. Over the next three years FAME provided follow-up treatment and monitored her lymphocyte count. With an indomitable spirit and an impish grin, she won the hearts of all whom she met.
The Electrolyte machine also provides critical patient information. Diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or anything that causes dehydration, can result in an electrolyte imbalance. These symptoms are among the most common seen at FAME. An electrolyte imbalance is a serious condition that can result in changes in heart rhythm, seizures, coma, or even death. Restoration of electrolyte balance is tricky as a rapid change can cause the same problems as a chronic imbalance. The electrolyte machine is necessary to diagnose electrolyte imbalance and to continue to monitor levels during treatment. Additionally, a modern electrolyte machine will require very little maintenance and can withstand a great range of physical conditions. It will also measure blood gases - another critical test for which there is a high demand at FAME.
Halima was brought to us in a confused and almost incoherent state. A full battery of tests were run and her electrolyte levels were found to be dangerously abnormal. Without knowing the cause of the imbalance, treatment was initiated. Initially the patient worsened, becoming unresponsive, during the gradual treatment. After twelve nerve-wracking hours of treatment, the levels moved toward normal. Within 24 hours, Halima was alert and coherent, able to supply some medical history that shed light on her electrolyte changes. Without an electrolyte machine, proper treatment might have been next to impossible. So many things can cause a person to become comatose that it would have been necessary to eliminate possibilities in order to reach a correct diagnosis. It is likely she would have died during such an exercise.
We rely on the MiniVidas to measure thyroid hormone levels with a number of patients currently being monitored. Individuals with an overactive thyroid can succumb to what is called a thyroid storm resulting from surgery or other severe trauma or as a result of chronic conditions including stroke, diabetic ketoacidosis, and congestive heart failure. This condition can quickly become life-threatening. The number of surgeries performed at FAME is increasing rapidly as our doctors enhance their skills and as more patients come to us with surgical treatment needs. Similarly, our effort to provide support for individuals with chronic diseases carries with it a need to provide emergency care for those whose chronic conditions become uncontrolled. This machine has become essential in FAME's laboratory to aid in our efforts to reduce the number of deaths from these chronic conditions.