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  • Liberia Success Story: Family Members Survive Ebola

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 22, 2015

    With the help of Medical Teams International volunteers, several members of the Sackor family in Liberia survived Ebola. But, because few Ebola stories come with completely happy endings, there were losses.

    In the end, two of the family’s children died of the horrible disease, which has infected thousands in West Africa. Nonetheless, the Sackor family’s story underscores the need for well-trained, dedicated general community health volunteers who work to educate people about the threat of Ebola. Your generous donations are the fuel that drives that work.

    The Sackor family’s story began in October, when 5-year-old Ramsey became sick. His grandmother feared he had Ebola, and she was right. He was the first reported case of the disease in Polay Town, part of Sinoe County. At first, his parents refused to divulge the nature of his condition and didn't seek treatment. Eventually, a Medical Teams community health volunteer named Negba convinced the family to take the boy to a hospital. But it was too late for Ramsey, and he died.

    Liberia, Ebola, Medical Teams International, Sinoe County, Polay Town
    Negba, a Community Health Volunteer in Sinoe County, disinfects his hands. He is responsible for educating people on taking measures to prevent the spread of Ebola.

    Even after Ramsey had succumbed to the disease, his family did not explain what actually happened to him. They told no one that their house could still be infected by the disease.

    Knowing others in the community were being put in harm’s way by the family’s silence, including the family members themselves, Negba intensified his educational campaign to convince the Sackor family to be quarantined for 21 days. The family eventually acquiesced to Negba’s request.

    It was during the quarantine that three of the family members — father Dioxin, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter Joanna — came down with symptoms of Ebola. They called nearby health workers for help. An MTI ambulance evacuated the family, including the family’s 13-month-old baby named Anthony. Thankfully, the baby showed no signs of having been infected.

    Under treatment, Dioxin and his wife survived Ebola. However, Joanna wasn’t so lucky, and she later died from the disease. Thirteen-month-old Anthony was the only family member not to have been infected, and Negba’s persistence is likely the reason for that.

    Liberia, Ebola, Medical Teams International, Community Health Volunteers
    The Sackor family, including 13-month-old Anthony, survived Ebola thanks to the help of a Community Health Volunteer. They now take the lead in educating the rest of their community about Ebola prevention.

    Having already lost so much, Anthony’s mother called her baby’s survival “miraculous.” She now realizes that listening to Medical Teams’ community health workers was the difference between life and death. While she lost two children to the ravages of Ebola, Anthony’s survival is a blessing, and his life is a sign that there can be hope even among death.  

    “I am happy to take Anthony in my arms again,” she said. “Thank God for MTI activities in Polay Town, (to) all those who help us to live again. We listened to Negba to still be alive.”

    Since returning from the Ebola Treatment Unit, Dioxin is now enforcing “infection prevention control” measures in Polay Town, using what he learned from Medical Teams’ volunteers. He encourages others to wash their hands regularly, and he asks people to seek medical attention early if they're showing signs of Ebola.

    Each morning, he makes Clorox water for everyone in the community, so they can safely wash their hands when they come back from the farm or other places.

    Your gifts, support and prayers have lifted the Sackor family from a terrible low point and empowered them to help others. Because of your benevolent support, baby Anthony is alive.

    - Jamaima Kollie, an MTI field staff member in Liberia, compiled this story of sadness and survival.

  • Staff Story: Everyday Heroes in Liberia

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 20, 2015

    Medical Teams International recently received the following essay from Andrew Hoskins, who is MTI's country director for Liberia. Since the Ebola epidemic exploded over the summer, fast becoming the most urgent international health risk since AIDS, medical volunteers and staff in Liberia have been laboring to quell the spread of the disease. Work toward this end has been accomplished by implementing triage techniques and reopening health clinics.

    The work continues.

    Hoskins writes from the front lines of Ebola, in Liberia, where he and his family live. Please take the time to read his eye-opening account.  

    By Andrew Hoskins 

    When I arrived in Liberia, I had no idea of the coming disaster, which would overshadow every aspect of life in this small country. I came to Liberia to manage projects intended to build the capacity of Liberian nurses and doctors, to empower rural hospitals and clinics to provide better health care, and to encourage communities to be involved in decisions that affect their own health. 

    Liberia, MTI, scrubs 2, Dec. 2014
    Work continues in Liberia to keep health clinics open in the face of the ongoing Ebola threat.

    This is still the work of Medical Teams International in Liberia, but everything has taken on new meaning now.

    I have been reluctant to share about my work in Liberia because there is so much fear in the general public. With new infections in America, Ebola is on everyone’s minds. Even as I am writing this, the regulations are changing regarding travelers returning to the U.S.A.

    It is not easy to have such uncertainty about what will happen when we return to the states. Yet while infections in Texas and New York are tragic, remember that this is a West African epidemic. America is incomparable to the situation in Liberia. No country could have been prepared for an outbreak like this, but the health system in Liberia was particularly poor. I have seen clinics run out of basic supplies like gloves. Compare that with the huge task of preparing clinics with the amount of Personal Protective Equipment that is recommended in Liberia for even a non-suspected patient, not to mention the training on how to use the new supplies.

    The numbers (4603 cases in our city of Monrovia alone) aren’t real until you put a face to a number. 

    Michael Blama has worked for Medical Teams for years as a medical supply distributor. He is a nurse, so his family looks to him as a source of knowledge. One day upon arriving home, he found his niece had come to his house from a different area of town because she was unwell. Because of Michael’s training through Medical Teams International on Ebola, he immediately took precautions. 

    He arranged the transport of his niece to a health facility and the test results came back positive for Ebola. She died the next day and Michael and his entire family were quarantined. At the end of the 21 day period, not a single member of Michael’s family contracted the disease. 

    The story is a sad one, but there is hope. The disease is stoppable.

    The heroes are the local health workers who live here and give their time, day in and day out, to serve their communities.  

    Florence Rogers is Liberian nurse who works as a clinical supervisor for Medical Teams. Her family is in Monrovia but she is working for us in Sinoe County, a full day’s drive on bad roads from her home. Since the start of the outbreak, Florence has put in long hours sometimes going out into the field starting at 4 a.m. and often sleeping in the communities that are far from the road in order to train and equip community health volunteers on Ebola awareness. She often works seven days a week and rarely gets a chance to come in and see her family in Monrovia. She cares deeply about the communities she serves. 

    For me, she is a hero.

    Because of supplies that were shipped in and donated from all around the world, Medical Teams International was able to reopen many clinics. These clinics had closed during the Ebola outbreak because health workers were afraid of infection. Many of their fears had to do with not having adequate supplies or equipment to protect themselves. 

    As one example, MTI visited the Goodwill Clinic on the GSA road in Monrovia shortly after it had closed down. After training, coaching and setting up follow-up visits, Medical Teams donated a two-month supply of gloves, chlorine for disinfection, face masks, aprons, rubber boots, and other items. With these supplies, the health workers gained confidence and reopened the clinic. Now, the community around the GSA road outside of Monrovia have access to health care. They now have a place where they can bring their children if they are sick or where their mothers can deliver babies.  

    This is my first experience living in what the United Nations has defined as a “full scale humanitarian disaster.” But one thing I’ve learned is that life must go on for all who live right in the middle of it all. For us that means homeschooling our girls since the schools are temporarily shut down. We are building a Swiss-Family-Robinson-style treehouse system in our back yard which gives us something other than Ebola to think about. We still go to the market and to the grocery store. 

    I know that God is still in control, even in the midst of disasters. Others may question it, but He has given us a peace about being here. Thank you for your prayers and support.

  • Mobile Dental Success Story: Kristine's teeth

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 20, 2015

    Kristine’s teeth are brittle. They’re breaking off.

    Above a puffy-pink lower gum line, shards of what are left of Kristine’s teeth jut upward at off angles, glaringly interspersed by large gaps. She is missing many of her teeth, but not by the hands of a dentist.

    “I hate meth,” she said. “I hate what it did to me.”

    Mobile dental, Kristine shows teeth 3, Jan. 2015

    Kristine’s struggle with drugs has taken a toll, and her lonely gum line is the physiological representation of that. It’s also reminder of what else she’s lost. As she holds back tears, she laments, “I want my teeth back. I want my life back … I feel so ugly without my teeth.”

    In January, she visited a Medical Teams International mobile dental clinic at the Clackamas Service Center, a first step in putting her teeth, and life, back together. The program provides care to children and adults who cannot afford or don’t have access to dental health care.

    Mobile dental, Kristine and dentist 3, Jan. 2015
    Kristine meets her dentist who will be performing the extractions. She is giddy with excitement.

    At the clinic, dentists-in-training from Oregon Health & Science University performed extractions to clean up the damage. The work is necessary so Kristine can have a healthy mouth and eventually bridge the gaps left by tooth decay.

    Your donations to those in need have given Kristine hope. She is now able to receive much-needed oral health care. For years, Kristine has suffered from low self-esteem, which has only strengthened her reliance on drugs. She calls it her “nightmare.”

    Kristine suffers from mouth pain and can’t eat many types of food. She can’t smile without feeling inadequate.

    She recalled meeting a woman at the supermarket and sharing a joke with her. In the moment Kristine laughed, flashing a broad smile, before feeling overcome by embarrassment. Kristine felt the other woman was judging her for her teeth.

    Even though she has worked hard to kick her addiction, she is too ashamed to look for employment.

    Kristine said your help is a sign that God is working in her life and that she has purpose. And, hopefully soon, that purpose will be evident on Kristine’s smile after her teeth are fixed. She said Medical Teams and the mobile dental program do great work healing wounds — both psychological and physical.

    She even smiled. “I like to smile,” she said.

  • Guatemalan success story: Malnourished twins brought back from the brink

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 15, 2015

    In the small southern Guatemalan municipality of Chicaman, something was wrong with 19-year-old Santa Lucil Alvarado’s twin daughters.

    The twins, named Joselin and Mayra Rafael, were weak, sickly and not gaining weight.

    It’s a common problem for children in the tightly knit community, an affliction that touches many of the 350 families there — malnutrition. In rural areas of the jungle-lush country, severe poverty leads to a lack of food and an abundance of food insecurity. Hunger is a part of daily life.

    Santa Lucil’s husband works in Guatemala City as a security guard. Each month, he sends money back to his family. But his wages are insufficient to support the family. The girls don't receive enough milk or food. So, like many children in the region, they are constantly hungry.

    In Guatemala, the faces of hunger and poverty belong to rural and indigenous youngsters, like Joselin and Mayra Rafael. Santa Lucil tries her best, but like so many other young mothers in Chicaman, she was never properly educated on how to feed and nourish her children. 

    Due to her own lack of nutrition, her body is unable to produce sufficient breast milk for her girls. She instead feeds them a drink derived from cornflour.

    Guatemala twins
    Santa Lucil Alvarado sits with her twins, Joselin and Mayra Rafael, who were saved from the pain of malnutrition. 

    Since 2013, Medical Teams International and its partners have been working in the area to provide high-impact nutrition to families. In the case of little Joselin and Mayra Rafael, Medical Teams determined undeniably that the girls were suffering from malnutrition. Through the support of your donations, the twins’ mother, Santa Lucil, received the financial resources necessary to buy milk and a type of hearty hot cereal known as Incaparina, commonly used as a nutritional supplement.

    Soon, the girls were gaining weight; their lives had been enriched.

    Joselin and Mayra Rafael’s story is one example of what can be accomplished through coordinated teamwork. Thanks to you, MTI is able to provide dietary supplements, micronutrients and in some cases food to Guatemala’s most vulnerable citizens.

    Your donations are going a long way to improving their lives. In recent months, Joselin and Mayra Rafael have shown signs of recovery, gaining weight and growing in height.

  • Success story: Pope to arrive in typhoon-ravaged Philippines

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 13, 2015

    (This post has been updated)

    A year after devastation befell the Philippines in the form of a catastrophic category-5 typhoon, the archipelago nation had planned for a blessed moment.

    This month, Pope Francis made the first pastoral church trip to the Philippines since Pope John Paul visited the country in 1995. One of his destinations was Tacloban, the Southeastern Philippine city flattened by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. There, he meet with typhoon survivors and performed mass near the airport.

    MTI - Philippines 2013 Sean Sheridan Photographs-51
    ‚ÄčThe city of Tacloban following the landfall of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

    Medical Teams volunteer Jay Sudario lives in Tacloban and said the city was abuzz with excitement and activity as Pope Francis arrived at the Tacloban airport, even as a new storm was brewing near the Philippines. “It was raining moderately,” Jay wrote in a message to MTI, “but the people here were so happy and feeling blessed.”

    The resilient residents of Tacloban had been planning for the papal visit for months. Not even a typhoon in early December — known as Typhoon Hagupit — could put a damper on their collective excitement. Not even the intense weather the pope encountered on the day of his visit could do that. “Lots of people here are prepared and so excited,” Jay said.

    It was a sign, not just that the hard-struck region wants to turn the page, but that it’s building the capacity to do so. Tacloban, in the Leyte province, is bouncing back – rebuilding and regaining confidence.

    Your generous donations helped make that possible in the Philippines.

    Emergency responders in Tacloban, like volunteer firefighter Mave Lim, say they’ve been putting into practice what Medical Teams International has taught them. He and many of the area's other first responders underwent preparedness training last year following Typhoon Haiyan, coordinated by MTI and conducted by paramedics from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

    "Before (Haiyan), we had prepared, and we thought we prepared well," Lim said. "But, unfortunately, we were overwhelmed."

    Tacloban Delta fire, Dec. 2014
    Firefighter Mave Lim, center, says emergency preparedness training conducted by MTI volunteers has made Philippine first responders more confident in their abilities.

    More than 7,300 lives were lost as a result of the typhoon, particularly after a storm surge unexpectedly flooded low-lying areas. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. Thousands still are.

    But when Typhoon Hagupit was bearing down on the area in December, "we were much more prepared," Lim said.

    Like Lim, the area's other first responders said MTI's training, made possible through your gifts, empowered them to feel more confident in their abilities to act. Those skills were put to use to plan for the pope’s visit, Lim said. An unprecedented number of people converged on Tacloban for the historic event, despite the stormy weather.

    The pope’s visit comes at a time when the devastation wrought by Haiyan is still so visible throughout the city.

    Lim said his firehouse, known as Delta Volunteer, is using what it learned from MTI to reach out to other areas affected by disaster and to become more self-sufficient. The volunteer firefighters there even delivered relief packages of food to displaced families during the holiday season. For Lim, a gesture of that sort had to be made.

    Following the pope’s arrival — a celebratory day for millions of Filipinos — the message in the Philippines remains one of resiliency and resolve in an area that not so long ago was at the forefront of disaster.