My visit to Kpando: One Physician’s Experience
Peter Meade, an LA surgeon, reports on one of his short-term missions with MDA.
When I first arrived at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, my first order of business was to find Mary Murphy, who I was told would be meeting me there. Mary is one of our Lay Mission-Helpers, volunteering to do a job that would draw a large salary here in the USA; she’s the Chief Executive Officer of the hospital. Fortunately for me, Mary, with her completely white hair and her Irish complexion, was very easy to find amid the dark brown African crowd near the exit! After warm smiles and a welcoming hug, we were on our way.
Within two hours of my arrival in Kpando, Dr. Brent Burket, our MDA Family Practitioner, called me to the operating room to help him with a C-section. Brent has been in Kpando for almost two years, and he has become quite good at performing this type of surgery. I’ve found that Brent is very good at great many things, not the least of which is that he is one of the most likable, hard-working and dedicated physicians I have ever known. He constantly uses his sense of humor to help get him through difficult situations, which is a survival requirement in an African hospital.
Helping with the anesthesia that night was Brent’s wife, Dr. Jennifer Thoene, an attractive and excellent MDA Family Practice Physician, who, like Brent, does nearly everything in the hospital, including managing patients on the Women’s Ward (including Obstetrics), the Men’s Ward, and the Pediatric Ward. Together with Brent, she helps to run the daily medical clinic, which averages between 60-100 patients per day. Jennifer is also the Medical Director of the hospital, and she runs a tight ship. I’ve told Brent many times that he’s the luckiest guy in the world, to be married a person who is not only willing to work overseas with him, but who could also work side-by-side with him as a doctor too. A better couple than Brent and Jennifer is hard to find.
During my time in Kpando, I found myself constantly challenged by the large variety of problems I had to solve in that strange new setting. It was an excellent test for me to learn just how good a physician I really was. It wasn’t just tropical diseases. It was everything from doing hysterectomies with the Cuban Gynecologist, to setting up traction for fractured femurs; treating testicular torsion, supracondylar fractures of the humerus, and trying to deal with serious problems without a ventilator or crash cart.
One night we had a child hit by a car, with a ruptured spleen and a bad head injury. After removing the child’s spleen, we took the free blood from child’s abdomen and poured it into a sterile glass bottle using a piece of gauze as filter and then transfused it back into the child. During that night, we all took turns squeezing the oxygen bag to help the child breathe, because we had no ventilator machine.
During another night, a woman was bleeding uncontrollably after she gave birth. There was no blood in the blood bank. What to do? Incredibly, Dr. Brent and our two visiting Obstetricians, Drs. Maureen Tart and Michele Lozeron, all donated a pint of their own blood to the woman and saved her life. When was the last time you ever heard of physicians doing something like that? I don’t know of any. This is just one example of the incredible kinds of people that you meet when you do this kind of work.
I’ve met Dr. Jim Guzek, his wife Roberta and their son, James. Jim and Roberta single-handedly built the best eye clinic in the entire country of Ghana during his three years there, and the amount of good that the two of them have been able to accomplish is beyond measure. People from the capital of the country came all the way to Kpando to receive treatment from Dr. Guzek.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Leo Brown and his wife Blue, whose MDA careers span over 30 years. Leo and Blue served in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), where he did surgery and flew his airplane in the 1970’s. They have also worked in Cameroon, Ghana and in Papua New Guinea.
I’ve met pediatrician Dr. Kate Bolton and her husband John Ruley. Both have worked with MDA in Kpando as well as Papua New Guinea. This great couple now flies their own airplane to do monthly medical missions in Mexico. I’ve also met Peace Corps volunteers, and full-time missionaries who plant churches out in far away places. Salt of the earth type people!
The greatness of all of these people has definitely rubbed off on me!
I say: Go. It’s the best work in the world, and by far one of the best things that I have ever done. Can you think of anything better to do with your time than to help God’s poor? I can’t. Jesus comes in many disguises. And we see Him everyday.
The desire to work overseas comes out in different ways. Some say it is a calling; but for me it has always been more like an itch, or a pebble in my shoe that won’t go away. Whenever I listen to the radio on my way to work and I hear about the problems around the world, I say to myself: “I should be there. I should be helping out.” And the pebble gets bigger and the itch gets worse whenever I hear of others doing missionary work or working with international organizations. That itch.. that uncomfortable pebble in your shoe.. that’s God calling you. He’s calling you to either go out there yourself, or help support the work in any way you can. If you’ve ever thought that you might like to try it, or contribute to it, do it now and don’t wait until things are “perfect”. Conditions will never be perfect and you never will be perfectly “ready”. Answer the call! Don’t wait until you are too old and physically unable to do it. Do you remember that old saying about the regrets that we have at the end of our lives? We do not regret the things that we did during our lives as much as the things that we did not do! Make the time! Come with us!
As for me, I am looking forward to the coming year and my next mission. I intend to be doing this for as long as God allows me the strength to do it!
Dr. Meade has been a member of MDA since 1986. He was named the Los Angeles Physician Humanitarian of the Year in 1999 by the California Hospital Medical Foundation.