Medical Teams International | Official Blog

Stories of hope, health and lives transformed.

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  • Liberia: Life-Changing Surgery

    by Sarah Austria | Apr 08, 2016

    “I was blind, but now I see.” These words from the powerful Christian hymn Amazing Grace are the very same words used by Susannah, a Liberian woman in Sineo County who underwent life-changing eye surgery.

    Susannah’s blindness was the result of cataracts - the world’s leading cause of blindness. In Western countries it’s a condition that’s easily fixed. But in Liberia, a country with a shortage of medical doctors and almost no specialists, cataracts often mean blindness.

    For every success story like Susannah, there are many more like Esther - people in need who continue to battle their afflictions. Like Susannah, Esther suffered from bad cataracts in Liberia.

    Although she underwent surgery to fix her condition, the procedure comes with a fair amount of risk. After her surgery, complications arose for Esther and her eyesight ended up worse than before. Her goal was improved eyesight - now she is legally blind.

    “I just want to see,” Esther said. “I thought the operation would work. It did for other people. Now I am in more pain and can see less than I did before.”


    Unfortunately, even for patients who are able to have surgery in this region, follow-up care is rare.

    Complications arise and often go untreated. Susannah and Esther live far from the hospital, and with neither a vehicle nor public transport, they have no way of accessing eye care. Cataract surgery is usually performed by an ophthalmic surgeon, but in a country still recovering from civil wars and Ebola, post-op care is not an option.

    Things are getting better. Recently, a Liberian nurse was sent to nearby Ghana to train, perfect the surgery and return to her country to perform it. Medical Teams International routinely visits remote communities in Liberia and heard about Esther’s condition. They knew the newly trained eye nurse could help.

    Medical Teams International staff determined that Esther’s retinas had detached after the first surgery - she needed a follow-up procedure and vital eye drops to correct the problem. Recognizing the challenge of transporting Esther to the eye clinic where she had no family or support, Medical Teams International fieldworkers sat with Esther and explained that they would set up a day for the eye nurse to come to her community. Esther’s face lit up with a wide smile as she heard the news that help was on its way.

    As Esther awaits the corrective surgery, she is confident that once it’s over she too will be able to say, “I was blind, but now I see.”

  • A New Life of Uncertainty

    by Sarah Austria | Apr 06, 2016

    Chop, chop, chop. In a refugee camp in Lebanon, fifty-year-old Syrian refugee Wafa prepares fresh parsley for the tabouli. This sound is the background to her story. Wafa’s former life of security and stability has little resemblance to the life she is living today. Her situation changed quickly - and dramatically.

    Wafa used to hire a woman to make tabouli for her family in their hometown of Homs, Syria. There she and her husband, Jassim, were considered relatively wealthy. The family owned a triplex, and her husband was a businessman with his own shop. Then the bombing began.


    Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, has long been the site of vicious bombing in the ongoing Syrian war. Wafa and Jassim’s home and entire neighborhood were destroyed. Jassim was injured in his leg and hip as they fled the bombing. Metal damaged the eye of one of their sons. Somehow they managed to survive and fled Syria.

    The couple arrived at the refugee camp in Lebanon in 2012. Their six sons and three daughters made it to camp with them. But, all is not well. Wafa suffers from hypertension and kidney pain. Jassim is diabetic. Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to receive care from Lebanese hospitals and clinics, leaving a massive gap in health care.

    After losing everything, many cannot afford even the most basic healthcare – let alone treatment and medication for chronic illness. For some, this is a death sentence.

    But, thanks to your support, they are not alone. Wafa is now stable and receiving medication. “I am really thankful to the MTI team. You always call a day before you visit to tell us to fast before our blood tests the next day.” You help bridge this gap by providing direct medical services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

    For the short term, Wafa and Jassim’s family is safe and relatively well. They are, however, understandably concerned for the future. The family suffers from war injuries and needs money for medication. Wafa says, “I always have high blood pressure when I think about what happened and how we have to live now in this camp.”


    Several months ago, Wafa was able to go back to her village in Syria to see what was left. Everything was gone – their home was destroyed. They understand that they will never be able to return to Syria. As she prepares the meal for the family, it’s hard for Wafa to know how to prepare for what lies ahead.

  • To tell the tooth: A first time dental visit

    by Tyler Graf | Mar 30, 2016

    Mobile Dental, Amelia, March 2016
    Third grader Amelia awaits her first visit to the dentist aboard Medical Teams International's Mobile Dental Clinic

    The 9-year-old girl eased into a reclining position on the dental chair and awaited the volunteer hygienist in the other room of the Mobile Dental clinic. As she did so, she acknowledged, "This is my first time to the dentist."

    A recurring and worsening condition brought the girl to the clinic.

    She's was feeling pain in the back of her mouth, and the girl's mother thought she may have a cavity. The girl's family has struggled to find a dentist and to navigate the complicated and expensive world of dental insurance. They don't have the financial resources to buy dental insurance outright.

    Through a smile, third grader Amelia tells the truth: She's a little nervous about seeing the dentist. Despite the nerves, she's also optimistic. Seeing the dentist is important, she said, because it means the health of her teeth will improve. And that means no more pain.

    Amelia is like Thousands of other children in Oregon who rarely if ever see a dentist, often because they lack adequate insurance, other times simply because they can't access a dentist. Around 117,000 children in Oregon lack insurance, according to Oregon Health and Science University. Dental professionals consider the gap in dental services among children to be the nation's hidden health care epidemic.

    Amelia came to Medical Teams International's Mobile Dental clinic because she started feeling sharp pains in a tooth several months ago. The pain eventually disappeared, Amelia said, but that's when the girl's mother discovered the root cause was a cavity.

    The volunteer dentist who treated Amelia said the pain went away because the cavity became so bad that it killed the nerves in the tooth. As the dentist inspected the rest of Amelia's teeth, he discovered other cavities of varying degrees of seriousness.

    Because of your life-altering gifts and the support of Medical Team's volunteer dental professionals, Amelia received two fillings. The volunteer dentist referred her to another dentist who could perform the rest of the work. Because of your donations, Amelia was able to see the dentist for the first time.

    Through it all, Amelia was totally at ease. She chatted about her favorite class -- math, because it was the most useful in real life, she said. And she mentioned that she tries to brush her teeth everyday. And that's a habit she'll continue, she said, now that's she's seen the dentist.

    And the truth for Amelia is that seeing the dentist was completely worth it.

  • So weak, "even the wind could blow him down."

    by Emily Crowe | Mar 24, 2016

    March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day. Even today - over a century after the disease's discovery - nearly 1.5 million people die each year from infection. 95% of cases occur in developing countries, and the disease is most dangerous for people with compromised immune systems - putting the vulnerable at greatest risk. We are taking today to honor those fighting this disease. Take a moment to meet one refugee in Uganda whose life you saved:

    "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:13

    From the moment Emmanuel began speaking, we were struck by his kind and grateful spirit. Speaking about God - and life - his enthusiasm is contagious. Then, we learned more about his story - and were completely blown away. Meet Emmanuel - and learn how are helping him overcome a season of unimaginable hardship.

    Back home, Emmanuel had built a good life: a home, a family. Then the fighting began. There was so much violence. Before they could flee, his wife and three children were killed. It was heartbreaking-- so much death, all for no conceivable reason. How could his family, his innocent children, be taken so suddenly? Emmanuel knew there was no way he could survive. Fleeing for his life, he left his home - what was left of it - to begin a new life in Uganda.


    Starting over in the refugee settlement in Uganda, Emmanuel began his new life as a refugee. Here, many of his neighbors had stories similar to his: homes and livelihoods lost, families destroyed, invisible scars from war. He built a home and began working for a neighbor to earn extra money and make ends meet. It was difficult to begin again, but - away from the violence and in his new home - at least now he knew things were getting better.

    Then, he started feeling sick. With each passing day, he felt weaker and weaker. Soon, it became impossible to work. Soon, he couldn't even afford his home. He was so worried-- if he didn't get better, what would he do?

    Thanks to you, this time, Emmanuel wasn't alone.

    Peter, his neighbor, was a Peer Educator trained by Medical Teams International. He noticed Emmanuel's deteriorating health and spoke up - he knew something had to be done. Luckily, he also knew where to find help.

    Thanks to you, Emmanuel wasn't alone.

    Quickly, Peter brought in Emmanuel to the Medical Teams International operated health center for testing. Here, our staff discovered what was causing Emmanuel's suffering: he'd been infected with HIV, as well as tuberculosis - a deadly combination that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. As his health declined, he'd also become malnourished. Plagued by illnesses that are all-too-common in the refugee settlement and unable to support himself, his body had literally been wasting away.

    Emmanuel told our staff that he was so weak, it felt like "even the wind could blow him down." [tweet this]Thankfully, you were there to make sure Emmanuel received the life-saving care he needed. He immediately began receiving treatment, and - slowly - he began regaining his strength. After so much heartache and loss, you helped this father - who'd already battled unimaginable heartache - reach a safe place to find relief.

    After so much heartache and loss, you helped this father - who'd already battled unimaginable heartache - have a safe place to find relief.


    Today, Emmanuel is doing much better. He can support himself again and is rebuilding a new life in Uganda. Most importantly, he exudes a thankful energy for the opportunity to be alive. Speaking about God, and his life - the life you brought back from imminent death - Emmanuel exudes a gratefulness that made us feel so blessed and joyful to be alive. Thank you for protecting Emmanuel's precious life - and so many others.


  • Syrian Refugees: Ready to Move On

    by Sarah Austria | Mar 21, 2016

    The children, ages 4, 6, and 11, scrambled and stumbled on the grueling trek through the mountains of Turkey with their parents, Syrian refugees Omar and Amina. 

    The children complained - it was an almost impossible journey for them, and arduous for the rest of the group. They were a long way from home and far from the end of their travels.

    Once on the Turkish coast, refugees put their fates in the hands of smugglers to carry them by boat to the shores of Greece

    Like so many Syrian refugees fleeing the turmoil of their country, Omar and Amina were forced to spend their entire savings in the hopes of finding safety in Europe. The family left their home outside Damascus to travel to Lebanon. From there they were able to fly to Istanbul, where their journey became increasingly difficult. The exhausting hike through the mountains to the Turkish coast was followed by a boat trip to Greece.

    Omar and Amina’s story is an all too common one. The Syrian conflict has reached the five-year mark.  4.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee to neighboring countries, and another 6.6 million have been displaced within Syria.  

    Like so many Syrian refugees fleeing the turmoil of their country, Omar and Amina were forced to spend their entire savings in the hopes of finding safety in Europe.

    As of March 1.9 million Syrian refugees have registered in Turkey.  Many of them, like Omar and Amina’s family, have decided to push on to seek more permanent homes in Europe. Since January 1, 2015 over 1 million people have traveled from Turkey to Greece by land and sea. 

    Once on the Turkish coast, refugees put their fates in the hands of smugglers to carry them by boat to the shores of Greece. It’s a dangerous crossing - overloaded inflatables, dinghies or other boats that often aren’t seaworthy. Last year alone 3,771 people drowned or went missing trying to reach safety in Europe. Those that arrive safely in Greece are met with ongoing challenges.

    Fleeing violence, this family was exhausted upon arriving in Greece. Thanks to you, Omar & Amina's children were able to get much-needed rest and medical supplies before continuing on their dangerous journey to find safety.

    Thankfully, Omar and Amina’s family made the crossing to Greece safely. There the children improved a bit and began to play.  The trip had, however, taken a toll on the family. They were tired, hungry, dehydrated - and in need of medical care and supplies. Thanks to your support Omar and Amina and thousands of other refugee families in Greece are receiving the medical care and supplies they need before moving on to find a new home. They are hopeful, though unsure where their journey will end.

    The sacrifices made by Syrian refugees demonstrate the severity of their situation - and the strength of their dreams.