A Cry For Life In The DRC

Editor’s Note: Tanya Lasko, Saving Moses’s operations director, writes a daily journal of her humanitarian travels. This post about Saving Moses’s BirthAid program presents portions of her entries from Nyankunde Hospital in Nyankunde, DRC. She traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Saving Moses’s founder, Sarah Bowling, and videographer, Lauren. This blog post begins on day two of a seven-day trip.

We awoke early to a breakfast of eggs, coffee, and cinnamon chapati (a traditional flatbread from India), before heading to the Nyankunde hospital, for formal greetings. Rain fell overnight, so we drove to the hospital instead of walking, saving our shoes from sticky mud. We met with leaders of the hospital, including Dr. Charles, the lead surgeon; Chaplain John; the village chief, Gaston; and the lead administrator, Bob.

The Congolese men were very formal in respect for one another and in the protocol of how things were done. As they spoke to us, one of our American hosts, Dr. Lindsey, translated. She and her husband, Dr. Warren, were in Nyankunde to provide the village and remote regions with medical care. Dr. Lindsey told us that “[the Congolese leaders] are thankful for our help and especially for coming.” They permitted us to take pictures. The chief said, “It tells the story louder than words.”

In this regional hospital of about 150 beds, the dire need for medical care revealed itself at every turn. The men took us on a tour, showing us the two long buildings. There were rooms for little ones with moderate and severe acute malnutrition, an antenatal ward, plus surgical rooms and an intensive care unit (ICU) run on solar power.

During the tour, a leader of the local militia came to observe and talk with the chief of the village. (To our relief, no weapons were allowed on the hospital premises.)

As we took photos of babies in the ICU and some obviously hesitant moms in the antenatal ward, Gaston, the village chief, told the moms that pictures were a good thing.

A few of the mothers allowed us to talk to them. All of them were in the hospital for high-risk pregnancies. They told us, with Dr. Lindsey translating, how thankful they were for the care, lodging, and shared meals together. They wanted us to know, too, how loved and cared for they felt by the hospital’s maternity team.

One of the young women, Rebecca, allowed us to interview her and film the delivery, scheduled for the next day. The following morning, we returned to the antenatal ward with Dr. Lindsey. Sarah talked with Rebecca while Lauren set up her equipment in the small operating room. Soon the procedure got underway. But something was wrong almost immediately.

While we watched Dr. Lindsey swab Rebecca’s pregnant tummy with antiseptic, the heart rate monitor stopped recording Rebecca’s heartbeat. For a split second, total silence replaced the repetitive beeps of the monitor.

The doctor immediately started CPR. Sarah and I stood against the far wall, watching in disbelief. Lauren continued filming. None of us knew how long Rebecca’s heart had been stopped. It felt like forever. When we heard the monitor start up again, the three of us exhaled. Never had the steady rhythm of a heartbeat sounded so wonderful.

Now Dr. Lindsey wasted no time. Rebecca’s stopped heart had sent her baby into distress. Quickly, she performed the c-section and delivered a baby boy whose heart had also stopped. For the second time in a few minutes, Dr. Lindsey performed CPR, saving his life, as well.

Later we learned that Rebecca had responded poorly to the anesthesia. As I reflect on it, I’m so thankful for the medical care that BirthAid provides out here. One baby was born, and two lives were saved that afternoon! No other antenatal clinic exists in this part of the DRC. Women often give birth alone, without access to emergency care. I shuddered, thinking how easily that could have been Rebecca and her precious newborn. Preventing maternal and infant deaths is a key reason Saving Moses launched BirthAid!

Due to poor sleep the night before and this highly emotional event, sleep came earlier that night for the three of us.

On our last morning visiting Nyankunde Hospital, we sat and talked in the hospital chapel. The thick cloud cover had to break, so the prop plane could land and fly us back to Bunia, where we’d start the long journey home.

As we left, the chaplain told us of a need to pay for education for his wife to become a midwife. There was a great need for midwives in the hospital, he said.

Yes, I thought, I saw it with my own eyes!

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