March 2015 Medical Trip

This year we were preceded by Lauren Rissman, a Tufts 4th year medical student, who spent the month of Feb working with Peter Minjale at St. Andrews.  She  had an amazing time and said she would spread the word at Tufts about how wonderful the experience was.

On March 14, 2015 this year’s Bridges to Malawi group, which included Drs Lisse and Hangen and old friend Dr. John Lozada as well as Josh Tello, RN and his wife Jenny, LISCW; Mariah Latzka and Kristina Pollock (2 Univ of Hawaii 3rd year nursing students); Samantha Lozada, NYU sophomore; and 10 high school students (Ruth Schade, this year’s contest winner; Brendan McMullen; Samantha Vaccaro; Jazmin Murillo; Nicole Wynne; Natalie Betez;Hannah Carroll; Kayla Monteiro (veteran of last year’s trip); Olivia Beaudoin; and Baylee Loewen.

Except for the fact that the 12 of us leaving from Boston were charged for all second and third bags by United Airlines (a first), we otherwise had an uneventful trip to Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe after a stopover with plane change in Addis. The Hawaii nursing students caught up with the main group in DC, and Josh and his wife at Addis when we arrived there.  We also met Melodie Hicks and her Vanier nursing students from Montreal at Addis.  All of us then caught the same flight to Lilongwe.  We have written a letter to the CEO of United requesting a refund after having had no luck with other people in that corporation (After a series of letter to the CEO of United, we have had NO LUCK WITH  and thus DO NOT PLAN TO USE UNITED AGAIN EVER FOR OUR TRIPS.  We have sent a letter ot the new CEO in hopes that his response will be more positive.  We’ll keep you posted).

Luzu Gondwe, our regular Malawi transport maven (wonder what the Chichewa word for “maven” is?) was there, as always, to greet us.  He had already obtained both the Rice University donated PUMANI aquarium pump bubble CPAP machine and the Malawi Atlas Textbooks donated by Grey Matter bookstore in Lilongwe.  He stuffed us into a rental van and piled our medication/medical supply/eyeglass filled baggage atop the vehicle, packed a hired car with those of us who didn’t fit into the van and off we went to St. Andrews, exhausted and exhilarated!

Once at St. Andrews, we were quickly surrounded by the local orphans who immediately adopted (or in the case of us veterans, re-adopted) us, a kid, sometimes two, to each hand. A spontaneous game of duck, duck, goose (or the Malawi equivalent thereof) broke out and everybody had a great time.  Afterwards we settled in with our various host families and slept off our flights.

The next morning our team was oriented to the hospital, local schools, and the orphanage.  Our group was divided into 3 different teams centered around the healthcare providers. Each team would spend the day either at St. Andrews Hospital or Kasungu District Hospital (KDH) or running rural clinics/making house calls.  The teams rotated so that everyone had a chance to work in each venue more than once.  Often ,  a team would work closely with a group of Canadian nursing students from Vanier College in Montreal, accompanied by their professor, Melodie Hicks.

Often ,  a team would work closely with a group of Canadian nursing students from Vanier College in Montreal, accompanied by their professor, Melodie Hicks.

The high school kids also spent time at the local primary and secondary schools, talking about their life in America and sharing experiences and ideas with their peers and the younger children of Mthunthama. Josh Tello, RN, gave an educational talk on congestive heart failure. Dr. Lisse gave a presentation on the use of the Pumani bubble CPAP machine, which was placed in the pediatric ward.  The first patient considered a likely candidate for this machine unfortunately died just before he could be placed on it.  Most likely the cause was pneumonia.

The high school students also spent much time at the orphanage helping out and playing a lot with the kids there.  They gave out a lot of donated toys and coloring books to the orphans; always a wonderful moment!  We also donated a large amount of medical supplies, medications, and even some money to the two hospitals and to the K2 TASO nonprofit we work so closely with when we are there.  In addition we donated over 100 packets of vegetable seeds for use by the poor of the area to help enhance their nutrition.

During our time in Malawi we cared for numerous children with malaria, malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrheal illness, and/or dehydration.  Thankfully, almost all of the patients improved with the treatment given jointly by us and the St. Andrews’ staff.  We also participated in the births of almost 20 children during our time in Malawi.  Almost everyone had a chance to spend some time in the OR with Dr. Hangen at KDH, where he did a lot of desperately needed orthopedic work.  We also cared for many adults  at the two hospitals, most of whom had AIDS related diagnoses.  At our rural clinics, we saw a total of about 1000 patients over the two weeks of the trip.  Many of these patients proved to have malaria, but we saw a variety of other infections, AIDS related issues, muscle strain and overuse syndromes and even a patient with status epilepticus ( a seizure that wouldn’t stop).

After  12 very busy days, we left Mtunthama for Lilongwe via the Kasungu District Game Park where we saw a single wild elephant up close and hippos and gazelles in the distance.  We then stopped at the craft market to purchase amazing Malawian art and, after spending the night in Lilongwe, caught our flight home.