20 November 2016

Summer of 2014 I spent a week in Uganda helping to run a pediatric anesthesia course (the same one I ran this week, in fact).  We had some downtime and for some of us it was our first time in that country, so we went for a hike, one of my favorite things to do.

I remember clearly as I was walking up the side of the mountain what I was thinking about.  Our first year of medical capacity building programs was finished; it was a tough year with a lot of discovery and successes led to greater dreams for the next year, a field service in Benin. (if you recall, we were scheduled to arrive in Benin in August of 2014, but ebola changed that plan… but at the time this story took place, my mind and heart were in Benin).

I was remembering my Peace Corps experience in Benin; I worked in the health center quite a lot of the time, and the staff let me see and do quite a lot.  I remember thinking how sparsely equipped it was; how they washed and re-used their disposable gloves, spent hours cutting bandages, and used rusty instruments. I remember being in the room during deliveries; sometimes the baby was strong and screaming and sometimes it wasn’t.  I knew there was something off about what I was seeing, but I didn’t know enough to do or say anything about it.  I wished I could have helped more than I did; I helped them to organize some paperwork and taught a few things but I remember desperately wishing I could have done more.

Fast forward a few years, and during the Congo field service I learned about Helping Babies Breathe, a newborn resuscitation program for low-resource environments (places that don’t have a NICU, supplementary oxygen, emergency drugs, etc).  Exactly the type of environment I had worked in.  As I was walking up the side of the mountain (really, just a hill, to be honest!) I wondered if it could be taught to Peace Corps volunteers, who could then teach it in their villages to the health centers.  It seemed a little crazy, not exactly what we do, but why not?  The algorithm is simple, easier in fact than a standard CPR course which is taught by and for non-medically trained people worldwide.

I pitched it to my boss who was there with me and we brainstormed how we could do it and ways to measure success.  The programs team supported the idea and a project plan was written; I was thrilled to be able to return to Benin and offer this teaching that I wished I could have had when I was a volunteer.  The key point is ensuring babies breathe in the first minute; we would teach the appropriate methods and supply all health centers with the materials needed, the materials that I knew my health center didn’t have when I was there.  So. Excited.

Then we were re-directed to Madagascar and had to adjust everything. The system is a bit different there, with a smaller percentage of births happening in the health centers but an active Peace Corps program, so we decided to go ahead.

It went so much better than I could have imagined!  So much good feedback from the volunteers and the people they trained; overall, a huge success.  It was so rewarding to talk to the volunteers who excitedly told stories of their health center workers saving little lives!  We’ve already done one training here in Benin, and hope to do another in the spring.  

Since the Madagascar project, we’ve been working on writing a paper about the experience, suggesting the model is a good one for wide dissemination of this teaching that has the potential to have a dramatic effect on newborn survival rates.  Finally, this week it got published!

Here’s the link: Link 

What a journey! A few years ago it was just a burst of inspiration while on a hike in Uganda, long before I was a graduate student and even thought about publishing anything!  Now it’s been shown to be statistically and scientifically beneficial and added to the global pool of knowledge… what an incredible thing it is to be a part of this place.  To see a dream come to fruition; to know that babies are alive today because of an idea and a pursuit and that maybe many more will be saved in the future is… incredible. 

Thank you, supporters and friends, for investing in me so I could invest in them.  What an honor. 

The HBB class in Madagascar


18 November 2016

It’s 6:56 PM and I am curled up in my bed, with cozy sweatpants on and my freshly showered hair is leaving a damp spot on the pillow propped up against the wall.  This is my Friday night.  And it’s glorious.

This week we ran two 2-day courses plus a training-of-trainers in the middle; the topic was pediatric anesthesia, the venue a local hotel, and it’s my job to make it happen.  Often we run these types of courses in a three-day format, which means we usually have Monday to sort ourselves out and the translators out and gives time for the guest instructors to adjust to the culture and the temperature and the, shall we say, more lenient sense of timing among the Beninese.  However we did this one differently, so it was full on from the start; very full, long days, and then dinner together afterwards, so the introvert in me is desperate to lie here and eat chocolate and mindlessly scroll through social media feeds until I turn out my light well before 9pm.   But I can’t help but reflect on the week and feel nothing but gratitude that I get to be a part of this.

Fifty people are now able to deliver safer anesthesia and critical care to the children of this country.  One of the doctors I work with remarked at the end of the course that few parents would value anything greater than they value their children; trusting their most precious possession into the hands of doctors and hospitals is truly an act of courage and hope.  Hope that they can and will save their child; that child that may grow up to be the next president, or the one that cures cancer, or the one that helps to eliminate poverty.  The hope is tangible, among parents and patients and medical staff alike; only fitting that hope is exactly what we are also able to offer, in the form of training, encouragement, methods and processes that hopefully improve the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.  What an honor to be an agent of hope in this place. 

Nine of those people have also been trained and resourced to be able to deliver the training themselves; multiplication, sustainability, hope for a future.  These could be the ones that transform surgery and critical care in this country, in this region, in this continent.  Oh, may it be so!

I’m in the process of training others to take over this responsibility for running courses; when I ran my first course three years ago we were sort of just figuring things out as we went along.  But now we have systems, processes, templates, checklists, and plans that I have loved creating and crafting and adjusting, but now it’s time to pass the baton.  I’m grateful to have been a part of creating something that will last; not only in Mercy Ships, but in the lives of the people we have taught and served and loved.   As I look forward to working on some other capacity building projects I hope and pray those that come behind me will stand on my shoulders and reach greater heights as agents of hope and pursuers of excellence in what we do. 

So tonight I curl up in bed with a tired body and a full, full heart.  Thank you, friends, family, and supporters – I could not do this without you. You are a part of this legacy; you are agents of hope to the people of Benin.  Thank you, from the depths.



13 November 2016

I haven’t written much lately, for a variety of reasons.  School is getting tougher and taking more of my non-work time; work has been full on since the beginning of the field service, but going very, very well.  I’m thankful for that.  Mostly I’ve been appalled and speechless about the circus going on back in my country of origin; something in me felt I couldn’t just write like nothing was happening, but couldn’t formulate words.  The thought occurred to me several times that I committed to myself back when I started this blog that I would never use this platform to rant, something I never use facebook for either.  I also tend to think no one asked for my opinion so why offer it; then I thought, well, that’s ridiculous, I offer my opinions all the time on this blog.  But this is different.  Somehow.  I’ve never written about hot button topics and I’ve always believed love and truth and light and life will win.

And I still believe they will.

I am heartbroken.  The hatred, the violence, the deep division.  The greatest weapon of the darkness is pervasive and evil and more prevalent today than any other day in my lifetime, as far as I can figure.  And it grieves my heart.

But I still believe that love and truth and light and life will win.  Always.

So I’m going to keep doing those things.  Loving. Spreading truth. Shining light.  Fully alive.


Something happened a few days ago.  I found myself thinking of “us” and “them”.  As in, I don’t really want to talk to any of ‘them”. 

Something twisted deep inside.  No.  NOOOOOOOOO. 

Us vs. Them is never be a product of the light.  Never.  Forgive me.

Love wins.

It’s not easy.  The best things in life generally aren’t. But they are worth pursuing.


Life continues on, the clock keeps ticking and the calendar keeps turning; I’m deep into revisions of my thesis proposal, there IS a light at the end of this grad school tunnel.  Less than a year left.  We’ve already trained a few hundred people and have another 75 or so coming through this week to learn how to safely administer pediatric anesthesia.  In a few weeks I’ll spend a week in the interior with the Checklist team; a few weeks after that I’ll get to experience Christmas through the eyes of my 3-year-old niece, while freezing my tropical blood back in Minnesota for a few weeks.  I can’t wait.

The future is always filled with uncertainty.  It’s what we do with the uncertainty that matters. Don’t let fear win.  It’s a lousy companion on the journey and takes all the fun out of it. 


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