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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • American Veteran: "This is my dental plan."

    by Tyler Graf | Aug 02, 2017

    With a gruff confidence that belies his sweet nature, Wade zips through Night Strike on his scooter like a hummingbird.

    He knows a lot of the people who show up to Night Strike, a community gathering for homeless people held under the Burnside Bridge. Social service organizations and church groups show up each week to provide food and services to more than 100 people. Our Mobile Dental Clinics regularly attend to provide free dental care.

    "This is my dental plan. Without it, I'd have lost four teeth."

    Wade used to be homeless himself. The Navy veteran spent 21 years on the streets or living in a van. Now he has a place of his own, works and receives disability payments from the government.

    A veteran, Wade used to be homeless himself. He still can't afford dental care. “This is literally the only place guys like me can come,” Wade said. He's grateful the clinic can provide care for him and for others in even greater need.

    But there’s one service he still relies on: the Mobile Dental Clinic.

    “This is my dental plan,” Wade says. “Without it, I’d have lost four teeth.”

    Financially, Wade is stuck in a Catch 22. His monthly income is above the VA’s income threshold to receive dental benefits. Still, his income isn’t enough that he can afford to pay for insurance out of pocket.

    A lot of these people are veterans like him. They are hurting. A little kindness goes a long way in restoring confidence and faith in oneself.

    Over the years, Wade has had several problems with his teeth. They became brittle and chipped easily. “This is literally the only place guys like me can come,” Wade said.

    Wade said he was thankful that Mobile Dental comes to Night Strike regularly because the needs among the homeless population are so great. A lot of these people, Wade said, are veterans like him. They are hurting. A little kindness goes a long way in restoring confidence and faith in oneself.

    Wade doesn’t lack confidence anymore. Through a big grin, he said he’s ready for the next chapter in his life – traveling through Europe.

  • Sending medicines when hospitals are gone.

    by Emily Crowe | Jul 27, 2017

    You’ve seen the destruction on the news. Millions of Syrians–entire cities full of children, parents, and grandparents–are caught in heartbreaking conflict. It’s not only their homes that are gone–more than half of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. The injured are left without medicines or supplies, and many who flee to safer places face impossibly expensive or nonexistent medical care.

    That’s why we must act to heal them.

    People in some of the worst-hit parts of Syria are now receiving medical supplies, thanks to a partnership with International Blue Crescent. Each delivery brings medicines and supplies to the injured and sick who might otherwise go without–children battling illness, pregnant women who need a safe place to deliver, elderly people who need medicine.

    A shipment of medical supplies arrives in Syria through our partner, International Blue Crescent (IBC). Right now, we have more shipments on their way to Syria and Lebanon.

    In Lebanon, our teams are training Syrian refugees as Community Health Workers. Equipped with the right knowledge and tools, women like Rasha serve as advocates for their neighbors, families, and friends. This means more people stay healthy, and passionate volunteers get medical training that can be used for years to come. For a child facing stress-induced diabetes, this training can save his or her life.

    Amal and Abir, mother (left) and daughter. Abir became withdrawn and tired after arriving in the refugee settlement. Soon diagnosed with stress-induced diabetes, our teams check in on her regularly and provide alternatives to insulin, which is too expensive for many refugees to purchase.

    The violence and heartache can feel overwhelming. But there is hope. As dedicated volunteers pack donated medical supplies, fearless international partners like IBC reach dangerous places, and generous donors support this important work, lives are being saved.

  • Filled with fear, Eh Wah knew where to turn for help.

    by Charlotte Falconer | Jul 18, 2017

    Imagine for a moment that you are in desperate need of medical care, but the only care available to you is either too far away or too expensive. In Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, this scenario is a reality for many people.

    Meet Naw Eh Wah, a mother of six in Myanmar. She experienced complications during her most recent pregnancy, and was able to receive much needed care from Naw Too Day, a health care worker in her village who was trained by Medical Teams International. Naw Eh Wah and her seven month old son are now healthy. 

    Thankfully, when Naw Eh Wah began experiencing pregnancy complications, she knew where to turn for help. A mother of five, Eh Wah’s other pregnancies had gone smoothly. But, during her sixth pregnancy, she began bleeding. Filled with fear for her health and that of her unborn baby, Eh Wah quickly consulted the community health worker in her village, Naw Too Day. Too Day, a volunteer trained by Medical Teams International, performed a checkup and offered Eh Wah guidance on the best next step to ensure her and her baby’s health – to go to the nearest hospital for delivery.

    Filled with fear for her health and that of her unborn baby, Eh Wah quickly consulted the community health worker in her village, Naw Too Day.

    While Eh Wah trusted the guidance that Too Day provided, she knew going to the hospital would be next to impossible. Her husband was away working, and she could not leave her other five children home alone to care for themselves.

    Unfortunately, this is a reality for many mothers like Eh Wah around the world. Only 37 percent of babies are delivered in health facilities. Follow-up care--including vaccines and health monitoring--is less likely to happen, putting children at greater risk.

    But these harsh realities are exactly why we establish community health programs like the one that equipped Too Day. Trained as a midwife, Too Day serves a critical role for mothers in her community when going to the nearest clinic isn’t feasible. That way, regardless of constraints, mothers and children are better guaranteed a safe delivery and follow-up care.

    Thanks to Too Day’s training, Eh Wah delivered a healthy baby at her home. Because of Too Day’s training, Eh Wah’s baby boy was also able to receive vaccinations that some of Eh Wah’s other children were not able to get early enough –one of her daughters is now partially deaf due to a preventable case of whooping cough. Eh Wah is thankful for Too Day’s advice and care, and that she has someone in her village she can trust to help keep her children healthy.

    Through the Safe Motherhood Project, Medical Teams International is striving to reduce mortality and morbidity among women and newborns. Because of the invaluable training of women like Naw Too Day, the lives of many people in Myanmar are being improved.

  • Humbled by refugee's perseverance & courage in Uganda

    by Rachel Wolverton, Africa Program Coordinator | May 26, 2017

    This story comes from the field, where Rachel Wolverton just returned from serving in a refugee settlement where we provide medical care in Uganda. Read her heartfelt reflections about one woman she met who's shown incredible bravery and perseverance, despite incredible obstacles.

    "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

    -Mother Teresa

    I first noticed Rose as she was waiting for medical care with her children at the Medical Teams International reception center health clinic. It wasn’t only her enduring beauty that drew me in, or the two young special needs children clinging to her. No, there was something else I sensed deep within this young woman that made it hard to simply pass by.

    Discreetly, I watched Rose as she made her way outside of the Medical Teams International health clinic to collect water.

    She slumped to her hands and knees and crawled across the hot rocky northern Ugandan terrain, sandals worn interlaced between her fingers to protect from sharp rocks, thorns, scorpions and other hazards of the East Africa countryside; the dusty, calloused knees I had noticed amid her fragile, spindly legs suddenly made sense.

    A brutal attack

    Through a translator, Rose graciously told us her story. Struck by a nearly-fatal bout of polio at age eight, Rose never regained use of her legs. No stranger to war as a child in South Sudan, Rose grew up a survivor in the midst of conflict. When her country found short-lived peace for a time between civil wars, she was married to a local man with dwarfism and within five years became the mother to three children (all of whom were also born with the same genetic mutation as their father).

    Rose and her family continually faced ongoing daily challenges living as a special needs family in rural South Sudan. But despite all that life had stacked against them, they made a simple home and a life together. Understandably, with the reality of their disabilities compounding their situation and limiting their options, they were in no hurry to leave their home and community, even when conflict and violence escalated around them once again.


    When her village outside of Yei, South Sudan, was attacked at night by a brutal rebel group that began to indiscriminately kill her neighbors, Rose and her family had no choice but to flee immediately into the dark protection of the bush. They left that night carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, joined by a newly orphaned neighbor boy who had that same night witnessed his parents’ senseless murders.

    For two months the young family anxiously and arduously navigated the highlands of South Sudan, living day to day, moment by moment, always in fear of being discovered by those who would do them harm. They survived, hiding in the bush and along riverbanks, at one time going four days without food, attempting desperately to make their way south, toward Uganda. Traversing under the cover of darkness, through approximately 100 miles of East African wilderness, would be an incredible challenge for any young family with three small children. But for Rose, it meant literally crawling one grueling “step” at a time toward any chance at survival for her family.

    A miraculous arrival

    Miraculously, Rose and her entire family were able to cross the border into the safety of Uganda, where they were transported to Palorinya Settlement in the Moyo district. There, Medical Teams International provided health screenings and immunizations. The family received tenting from the UNHCR, food and water rations, and a plot of land to build a new home and start a new life.

    Unfortunately, the relief for Rose and her family was short-lived. Their tenting disappeared before they were able to set up shelter, and without being able to physically construct a home on their own, the family had resigned to sleep under a tree at night. This was a dangerous arrangement for many reasons, not least of which is the risk of contracting malaria from mosquitoes. Malaria continues to be one of the leading causes of death in Uganda, especially among refugee populations.

    I had the incredible honor of meeting Rose and her children as they were being treated for malaria in the Medical Teams health center. As she recounted her journey, tears spilling off of her cheeks and onto the baby in her arms, I marveled at this woman. She embodied profound courage, pure tenacity, and an unrelenting will to survive.

    A growing crisis

    Rose is one of almost 900,000 South Sudanese refugees now living in Uganda, finding respite from the mass conflict and carnage in their homeland. A shocking 86 percent of the South Sudanese refugee population are women and children. The crisis is growing, with thousands of refugees each week coming through border crossings.

    Each person has a story to tell, accounts of unfathomable hardships full of loss and perseverance.

    After hearing Rose’s story at the Medical Teams clinic, we were able to connect Rose with representatives from Lutheran World Federation (LWF), who will work to construct a traditional tribal house for her family. This simple structure will protect her family from future bouts of malaria and help them to begin a new chapter in life – one of safety, health, and hope.

    I will never forget Rose, and pray that her narrative is written upon your hearts as well. Thank you for listening, for caring, and for sharing her story, and the plight of the South Sudanese refugees, with your families, communities and networks. Thank you for stepping with us into the tragic brokenness of our fragile world with your prayers, social media engagement, activism, and support for those who are on the front lines - loving, healing, protecting, and serving the most vulnerable, tirelessly, day after day.

    We can never know, short of eternity, what affect that our small acts of sacrificial love will make.

  • Maha: Refugee volunteer spotlight

    by Emily Crowe | May 17, 2017


    One of Maha’s favorite memories from Syria was going to school with her friends. After war forced her family from their home, life became much harder. “Hope to go back to Syria is the only thing that we live for,” she shared.

    Now 23, she works in the local fields to make a few dollars to support her family. She wants to continue her education, but it’s too expensive. Even though their situation feels hopeless at times, Maha is passionate about helping her community. Now, she can do both.

    Working with our teams and the local health clinics, Maha was able to go through medical training to provide health care and referrals to her fellow refugees in the settlements. Now, Maha serves with 500 other Refugee Outreach Volunteers to improve healthcare for the thousands of other refugees at the settlements.