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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Haiti: Taking Charge of Her Health

    by Sarah Austria | May 03, 2016

    Ketty labored to breathe. A usually slim woman, her weight had recently jumped to 240 pounds. But it wasn’t the added weight that was making it hard to breath. Ketty had a nerve condition, and her lungs simply weren’t working like they should.

    Just two years ago, Ketty’s life was very different. She could breathe freely. Her muscles did what she wanted. She was healthy. Then, everything changed. Ketty, who lives in Cayes, Haiti, suffered an infection that caused a serious nerve disorder- polyneuropathy. The condition took over her entire body.

    In just a few months, she lost nearly all use of her arms, legs, and trunk. She was almost completely immobile.

    In Haiti, nearly 80% of people live on less than $2 per day.

    Thankfully, there is treatment: physical therapy. However, it’s not quite that straightforward. It’s hard for patients with the disorder to move, causing additional health problems- like Ketty’s struggling lungs. In Haiti, many people with disabilities don’t receive the care they need, and most can’t find work. In Haiti, nearly 80% of people live on less than $2 per day. This makes physical therapy even more challenging.

    But, thanks to your support, Ketty found help. At the clinic affiliated with Medical Teams International’s Haiti Advantage program, doctors put her on a ventilator to ease her strained breathing. Finally, she was in the care of doctors - but a long ways from good health.

    Medical Teams International doctors next put her on a therapy regimen. At first, she couldn’t walk, even with the help of a walker. She had no control of her body - but she refused to quit. Day-in and day-out, Ketty and her doctors put in a tremendous amount of work on her physical therapy. Slowly, she made progress. After much hard work, her legs began to work again.

    Once Ketty could walk, she wanted to run.

    She entered a sports program at the clinic for people with obesity and became a star student. In just six months, she lost 65 pounds, significantly increased her muscle mass, and gained control over her blood pressure.Ketty_Haiti_Advantage_physicaltherapy

    Ketty is an inspiration - especially to those at the clinic where she worked with her doctors so very hard to regain her health. Ketty went from nearly immobile and obese to strong and healthy, thanks to you - and some serious determination by Ketty.

  • Volunteer Spotlight: Saving lives around the world

    by Emily Crowe | Apr 29, 2016

    Drs. Phyllis and Travis truly embody the spirit of Medical Teams International’s mission, “to demonstrate the love of Christ to people affected by disaster, conflict and poverty around the world.”

    Dr. Phyllis led 11 teams for Medical Teams International - impacting lives around the world. Here she is, serving as a volunteer in Somalia.

    In 1979, Dr. Phyllis answered the call from Ron Post, founder of Northwest Medical Teams (now Medical Teams International). He had an urgent request: Cambodian refugees were fleeing from the ravages of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime and needed care. Post was recruiting medical personnel to help save these vulnerable victims. When Phyllis heard the call, she said to her husband, “This is something I can do,” – and he urged her to go. Find out how Medical Teams International is continuing to serve in Cambodia >>

    Cambodian refugees were desperate for safety—traveling through the jungle at night to avoid being captured. Northwest Medical Teams cared for them with food and medicine—treating dysentery, diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, worms, measles and tuberculosis. But, most importantly, as Dr. Phyllis says, “We were there to show them kindness, the first act of kindness for each refugee after surviving four years of horror.”

    Phyllis_volunteer_healthy_women_world_CambodiaDr. Phyllis went on to lead 11 teams for Medical Teams International—traveling to Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia, Jamaica, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Honduras while her husband, Dr. Travis, served on trips to Ethiopia, Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda, Uzbekistan and Mexico. He subsequently made two trips to Thailand to help both the Cambodian and Laotian refugees. He was also an integral part of the creation of Medical Teams International as a nonprofit organization and served as the first board president.

    It is fitting that both Dr. Phyllis and Dr. Travis were instrumental in building the foundation of what is now Medical Teams International. We are honored that they returned to share many incredibly moving stories from their trips at the Healthy Women, Healthy World gathering on April 21 at Medical Teams International’s headquarters in Tigard.

  • Syrian Refugee: Where are Her Sons?

    by Sarah Austria | Apr 28, 2016

    Shamsa’s children are scattered in different countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. But it’s two of her sons that she worries about. Last she knew, they were in Syria. She does not know what happened to them- or if she will ever see them again.

    After the bombing of her city, Homs, Syria in 2012 Shamsa fled to Lebanon. Now, home is a refugee camp where she lives with two of her other sons. She traveled to the camp because she knew many of her friends and former neighbors from Homs were going there, as well. Anything familiar, any sense of community, is a warm embrace so far from home - especially after so much trauma.

    "I hope I will see them someday before I die."

    But Shamsa’s health is not well - she suffers from hypertension, asthma and back problems. Fortunately, while living in the refugee camp, she has received help from Medical Teams International. “MTI is really helping us. They are providing medication that I need on a monthly basis.”

    Forced to flee the violence of the now five-year long war in Syria, Shamsa is just one of many. Over one million Syrians have sought safety by crossing the border into Lebanon. Unfortunately, the Lebanese infrastructure simply cannot support the sudden, immense numbers of people needing care. Government and local and international agencies are overwhelmed. Thanks to your support, mothers like Shamsa are not alone.

    Programs offered in Lebanon by Medical Teams International prevent and reduce disease for refugees living in camps. Our programs also prevent and monitor dangerous epidemic outbreaks and increase health education through the identification and training of community health workers.

    Shamsa and her son at their new, makeshift home in the refugee settlement in Lebanon.

    Thanks to you, women like Shamsa are able to receive direct medical services in the refugee camp. “MTI’s doctor is really good. He always shows respect and patience.”

    Patience is a hard concept for a mother waiting to learn the fate of her children. She wants to go back and be with her children in Syria, but - for now - this is impossible. Speaking of her two sons last known living in Syria, Shamsa shares her heartbreaking wish: “I hope I will see them someday before I die.”

    Thank you for being there for women like Shamsa, and protecting the families who are struggling to endure and keep hope, even after so much loss.

  • One year after disaster: Nepal

    by Emily Crowe | Apr 25, 2016
    • 5,233 hygiene kits distributed to pregnant, lactating women, families with children under five years old, and other at-risk families
    • 20 distribution centers established
    • 51 Community Health Volunteers trained in five communities
    • 6,765 community members trained at 21 hygiene education sessions

    On April 25th, 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal- affecting more than five million people. Thousands of families lost their homes, and more than 30,000 were left dead or injured.

    It's now been one year since the disaster. How did your support help save lives during the disaster, and what are we doing now to make the country safer? Find out.

    It's now been a year... what's changed since then?

    The earthquake left more than 700 health facilities completely or partially destroyed, and many safe water sources were lost. This left thousands vulnerable- pregnant women with little to no access to medical care, children unable to properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and families with no safe access to clean water. Together, these can spell major disaster for months or years after the initial quake.

    Thanks to you, we've been able to do more than just react to the immediate disaster- helping thousands who were left vulnerable. We've worked hard over the past year to improve the health system- focusing on protecting the children and mothers who were at greatest risk. Your support has helped local facilities, clinics and communities provide better care, creating more safe, reliable places for mothers and their children to receive care. You provided hygiene kits to "at-risk" people, including nursing or pregnant mothers, children, at-risk families. Your support is still on the ground, implementing a better healthcare system that will help so many.

    Meet Badu, 82-year old earthquake survivor

    Badu_Nepal_earthquake_disaster_helpBadu is one woman who was injured in the quake. She'd lived in her rural home for most of her life. An 82-year old subsistence farmer, she was hit by a falling piece of rubble from a nearby building before she could reach safety. Thankfully, your support had sent a volunteer to the remote health clinic near Badu's home-- here, our volunteer wrapped and splinted her broken foot, allowing her to heal safely and avoid further injury.

    "You could hear them moaning from underneath the mud."

    Her entire village was destroyed in the earthquake, and at least seven people were killed. One of her neighbors said, "You could hear them moaning from underneath the mud, 'help us, help us.'" Although Badu's foot was broken by the collapsing building, she was grateful it wasn't worse. And, thanks to you, she was able to receive quick, safe treatment - avoiding suffering for months or even years to come.

    Stronger for years to come

    It was because of your quick action that our teams were some of the first on the ground, providing medical supplies, emergency relief and assessing damage caused by the earthquake.

    And, now, it's because of your continued support that we're able to help Nepal become stronger and more prepared- helping lives for generations to come.


  • Syrian Refugee Crisis, Part 2: Waiting in fear, losing hope

    by Emily Crowe | Apr 23, 2016

    WALID'S STORY - PART 2: This story is straight from the field - One of our team members met Walid and his family, Syrian refugees, in Greece. This is part two of their story- check out Part 1 here.

    Walid's wife and their youngest child, Muhammad, share a heartwarming moment in Greece. Fighting near their home forced them to flee, and they're enduring heartbreaking, dangerous conditions to find safety for their family.

    A dangerous game of chance

    On the day they were finally able to attempt crossing the Aegean Sea, water the group departed from the flat at five o'clock in the morning. Again, all 50 in the group were crammed in a small cargo truck. The group was again on top of one another and though it was freezing cold outside, Walid remembers the extreme heat of being in the truck and desperate for air to breathe. He remembers at one point having to remove all the clothing from his youngest child because he was burning hot.

    After half an hour of driving, it felt like they could no longer breathe and the group began knocking and pounding for the driver to stop and give them fresh air to breathe. Finally he stopped and opened the door for five minutes and did so repeatedly along the trip as they begged for it again and again.

    Finally the group reached Cesme, Turkey, around 7 p.m. The group was instructed to get prepared to leave in a boat and wait for their driver. The man who was supposed to drive them told them he was going to check for police and make sure the area was clear. They waited for him until 7am and eventually realized he would not be returning to help them get across. The group couldn’t wait any longer or they would certainly be caught.

    The dinghy boat should carry only 10 people—they crowded 50.

    The driver never came back to get them across so they had to choose someone from their group [none of them had experience]... The motor on the dinghy was very weak so they had to move slowly. After two hours they had still not reached the Greek border because they weren’t going fast enough.

    Then, water began seeping into their boat, and the group panicked realizing their boat was damaged… If the police did not arrive soon, they realized their boat would sink. Thankfully, however, the police came immediately… Walid remembers that volunteers brought them food and clothing right away. The next day the UN had arrived and they were given documents to keep track of everyone in the family.

    Waiting in fear, losing hope

    From Lesvos, the family of eight journeyed to the main land and up to the Macedonia border. They waited for a month by the Macedonia border. Walid recalls that it was very difficult and very cold. Heavy rain poured and the water would get inside the tents. There was no way for them to keep it out.

    After a month of waiting near Macedonia, they lost hope that the border would open. From there he shared his feeling at the time: "And then what will happen next I don't know."

    Walid holds up his son Muhammad to show the skin damage that has developed on his face that over the past two months. The doctor gave them cream to apply but it has not gone away.

    At this point, he shares that he and Reem will go anywhere that would give them stability for their family and the ability to live peacefully. Being a metalworker, Walid hopes that this will help him find work wherever they end up.

    In the short term view, he shares that they no longer feel hope they once did. “I don’t expect much from people,” he says, “but somehow, I hope God will work things out for us.”