Baylor Medical Missions Team Returns From Ugandan Trip
by Judy Long
Liz Chang offered a priceless gift in a Ugandan hospital last month.
She and her fellow registered nurses were on a lunch break at the small African hospital where Baylor University's Louise Herrington School of Nursing missions team worked, when the charge nurse stepped in with an urgent request for type O positive blood. A severely anemic five-day-old girl, born at home, had just been brought to the hospital.
Without hesitation, Chang volunteered.
While she was donating her blood, the nurse made an unusual request. Would Chang mind if they took a little extra?
"Take as much as you need," she told the nurse. "I knew whatever effect I felt would be short term, and I was willing to make that sacrifice."
Chang's awe-inspiring gift saved the infant girl's life.
"We went to the neonatal ICU, and I saw my blood infusing into the baby. Never in the U.S. would we be able to see someone receive our blood," she said.
The extra blood saved the lives of two other newborns.
Baylor's team of four students, all about to graduate from the family nurse practitioner (FNP) master's degree program, and their faculty sponsor, Lori Spies, returned March 31 from the three-week trip that extended well beyond the average college spring break. While there, the Baylor nurses worked in the Kiwoko hospital and set up clinics, dispensed medicines and tested children for HIV at two orphanages, a city home in Uganda's capital, Kampala, and a rural one in nearby Rakai.
"The hospital's equipment was simple, but sterile," Spies reported of the laboratory where Chang donated blood. "With the exception of asking to take extra, the experience was like giving blood in a professional lab here. It was a great learning experience."
Since most of the students work at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, they were able to witness an interesting contrast between the two hospitals.
"The physician there practically gave us a one-on-one tutorial in tropical medicine. But it's a different practice there than in the U.S. It was enlightening," Spies said, adding that diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and intestinal worms are seldom seen in the states.
The FNP students study tropical medicine throughout the Baylor program, and the degree is designed to prepare them equally to use their nursing skills in developing countries or in the United States.
They saw a significant number of malnutrition cases at the hospital.
"They were the worst cases I've ever seen, but the hospital staff handled them well. The malnourished children stayed at the hospital a long time, and the nurses taught parents about nutrition and tried to determine what was happening in the home to cause the problem. They engaged in what we consider a high standard of nursing in this country," Spies said.
The hospital treated one stage of malnutrition with intravenous rehydration, while a more advanced stage requires use of a naso-gastric tube.
"They use the tube if the child is too weak to hold a cup. Sometimes, parents wanted to refuse to allow their child to be treated with the tube because they viewed it as an indication the child would die. But when they heard how quickly a child perked up after insertion of the tube, they consented," she said.
Spies said the children in the orphanages were in better health than the team anticipated.
"We met our goals of giving each child a complete checkup with an HIV test, and we found fewer cases of HIV than we expected. We saw many cases of malaria and common childhood scrapes, colds and allergies."
In the rural children's home in Rakai, the team stayed in the orphanage and ate plenty of traditional African food. Spies said it was good and nutritious, though simple.
"We ate a staple called atokay--a starchy vegetable that they mash and serve with a sauce. It was often served with rice and peanut sauce, or they had meat with broth to pour over the rice. Sometimes they cooked cabbage or greens, and they also had a lot of beans. Part of the fun was knowing we were eating what the kids were eating. It was much more of a natural diet than what many American kids eat," she said.
At the rural home, the team saw skin disorders, but not as much scabies as they expected. Scabies is a common skin condition caused by a mite. They treated all the children for intestinal worms because those are so common in Africa.
"We also saw ulcers, respiratory infections and more malaria than we saw in the city. We didn't see trauma. I had the capability of suturing, but we didn't have any trauma at all," Spies said.
She reported that overall, the children were in good health.
"The homes were taking good care of them."
Rose Nanyonga, a Ugandan nursing student at Baylor's nursing school, said she was shocked by the reality of the lives of the orphans, even though she grew up in Uganda.
"I was not emotionally prepared for it. I grew up there, but I have been so far away for a long time. I was glad that we could make a difference for them. It doesn't take much to make an incredible difference," she said.
Nanyonga's unusual journey to faith began with childhood training to become a witch doctor, a prestigious career usually reserved for men. Her decision to embrace Christianity at the age of 15 angered her family, and she was forced to flee for her life.
Her journey eventually led her to Dallas, where she is completing her master's degree at Baylor and will graduate as a family nurse practitioner in May. After graduation, she plans to return to Uganda to make changes in public health care policy.
Nanyonga has tentatively accepted a job in Uganda as director of nursing in the International Hospital in Kampala, founded by the missionary couple who adopted her when she left her tribal home.
"It will take me out of the arena of family nurse practitioning, but it puts me in an area where I am critically needed. I'll be able to use my leadership, teaching and nursing skills," she said.
Nanyonga will return to Uganda with a vision raise the standard of medical care in the country.
"This trip focused on taking health care to more than 500 children, which was a wonderful gift--a lot of these children had never had a physical examination or been seen a health care provider.
"It will be wonderful to work with other Ugandans who care about the practice of medicine. You can do so much with people from other countries, but it would be better for the country if Ugandans -- people who speak the language -- could manage the health care and coordinate input from other countries."
Nanyonga said she hopes to establish a nursing education center where schools from other countries could send people as students and teachers. "But we'll see how it goes," she added.
Spies believes a yearly trip to Uganda would be the perfect FNP capstone medical mission trip.
"It's my plan to return each year with a team of Baylor students to help these children who live in such great need," she said.
Nanyonga wants to tell others about the children's plight.
"I and the others who went on this trip will carry those children and their story in our hearts. We want the children to know they are not forgotten, for there are millions more children like them in Uganda and the world," she said.
Nanyonga said she saw her story in the lives of the children they served.
"Any one of them could have been me. Someone obviously invested in my life for me to have come from where I did and be where I am. I would like to see people to invest in those children's lives. If my life has been touched, I believe it can happen for every one of them."