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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Guatemala: Surprise Twins!

    by Sarah Austria | Apr 15, 2016

    Irma knew she was pregnant.

    But she had no idea just how pregnant.

    Six months into her pregnancy Irma began having trouble breathing and was afraid she was having a miscarriage. She went to a local health clinic where a Medical Teams International nurse examined her and gave her surprising news: she was carrying two babies... and one of them might be turned in the wrong direction. The babies were in danger.

    She didn’t know it was even possible to have twins before that day. No one in her remote village had ever delivered them. No one had even seen a set of twins.

    Her community of Chitas sits on a remote Guatemalan mountainside, two hours up a dirt road from the town of Chicamán. It was while attending pre-natal classes taught by a Medical Teams International nurse and midwives in Chitas that Irma learned just how serious pregnancy complications can be. Her family was there for her. Irma’s husband works far away in Guatemala City and only comes home once every three months. Thankfully, her mother and sister live nearby and are able to help her cook and manage her one-room house.

    The pregnancy had been unexpectedly difficult for Irma, who already had one child. In a community where teen pregnancy is not uncommon, she delivered her first child without complications four years earlier-- at the age of 16. But this pregnancy with the twins had left her tired and her feet swollen. And news of the unsafe positioning of one of her babies made Irma fearful.

    The Medical Teams International nurse referred her to a health post that had ultrasound equipment. At first, Irma was reluctant to travel the necessary hour and a half to the health post, but she was having cramps and felt like she was going into labor. “I was really afraid the babies would die,” she says. And, from her training, she knew how important it was to take complications seriously.

    At the health post, health workers confirmed that Irma was carrying twins and gave her pain medication-- and emphasized how important it was, when the time came, to deliver in a hospital.

    When Irma’s labor started, her mother called Medical Teams International and two community health coordinators arranged for her to go to the clinic in Chicamán, which sent her on to the hospital in Uspantán. She was having cramps and felt like her heart was beating too hard. By the time she arrived at the hospital her breathing was labored, so doctors gave her oxygen. An X-ray showed the babies were compromised, and a doctor performed an emergency C-section.

    After the surgery, Irma learned that the baby girls were fine and with one on each side, she happily fell asleep.

    But they were not safe yet. Irma soon learned that the babies had low birthweights. One was only four pounds. She and the twins stayed in the hospital for 12 days. Irma was so distraught that her mother came to help her care for the babies in the hospital. Irma’s eyes fill with tears when she remembers their difficult first days.

    “It’s a blessing from God having my babies,” she says.

    Support for Irma and the baby girls continued when she arrived home. The midwife visited her, and the mother counselor taught her how to care for the twins. Medical Teams International’s Weight Monitoring Commission checked the weight of the babies and helped Irma provide nutrition for their healthy growth. Guatemala_Irma_MotherInfant

    Without your support, Irma may never have received education about the seriousness of pregnancy complications-- putting both her and her babies at risk. Thanks to you, they're all healthy. “It’s a blessing from God having my babies,” she says, “and I’m glad that the community also is happy.”

  • Anxious About Delivery

    by Sarah Austria | Apr 13, 2016

    Rosalia and Roberto live in the semi-rural community of San Jose la Laguna, outside the city of Senahu, Guatemala - an area where health services are hard to access. Expecting their fourth child - but unable to pay for a midwife or seek care at a private health center – they turned to their local public health clinic. Sadly, these clinics often lack medical supplies like sterile gloves or gauze - forcing patients to bring their own or go without. Like too many in their community, Rosalia and Roberto did not have the resources to afford these critical supplies.

    The couple feared what would happen if the clinic did not have the supplies they needed. They were concerned for the safety of Rosalia and her baby. Would there be clean gauze to stop bleeding and protect them from infections? Would doctors reuse disposable gloves after other deliveries? All of these scenarios could put Rosalia and her baby's life at risk.

    But, thankfully, they were not alone. As their due date grew closer, a shipment from thousands of miles away was already en route to stock the clinic with critically-needed supplies.

    Thanks to your support, we were able to send a shipment of surgical equipment and medical supplies - the exact supplies that Rosalia would need during her birth - to the health center. Included were surgical gloves, gauze, clamps and aspirators - all supplies needed to ensure safe and clean birth care.

    Roberto rushed Rosalia to the clinic when her labor began. They were so relieved to find the health center fully stocked with clean, safe supplies. Thanks to you, doctors had everything they needed for the safe birth of Rosalia’s healthy son, Carlos.Rosalia_Guatemala_Mother_Infant_BIrthcare

    “We have received good care and we are thankful to God and the doctors and the nurses who work in this clinic,” Roberto said. “We bought absolutely nothing because they had everything here.”

    Your support gives small communities around the world, like those of Rosalia and Roberto, access to simple – but life-saving – resources. Thank you. Please share Rosalia's story on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

  • 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.