A 6-year old little girl in Uganda, beautifully named Comfort, is anything but comfortable.
Two years ago Comfort fell into the fire her mother used for cooking a family meal. She suffered devastating burns on her hand, arm, neck, face and head.
“It’s amazing she survived,” said Dan Ostlie, MD, a pediatric surgeon. “Her skull was completely open down the bone.”
Comfort still has an open wound on her neck that has never healed and a scar that is pulling her head down towards her shoulder.
“It’s tragic,” Ostlie said. “We don’t have the same amount of risk for these types of burns in the United States since we don’t regularly cook over open flames. Unfortunately we see many cases like this one in Uganda.”
Comfort is one of 300 children and adults who have already signed up to be seen as possible surgery cases at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu by the volunteers from Medical Missions Foundation, based in Kansas City, Mo. Many of those people in need of surgery and their families are camped out in the hallways and on the grounds of the hospital hoping they or their loved one will be lucky.
Surgery is not a sure thing. The patients need to be healthy enough to withstand the operation. High or low blood pressure, malnourishment or even a case of the flu means it’s too risky to try.
The team of 77 medical and support volunteers will also operate out of a second hospital during the week-long trip. Another group will see patients in a rural setting where malaria is described as rampant.
This is the eighth year Medical Missions Foundation has come to this part of Uganda, which has been largely forgotten since Uganda’s civil war ended in 2001.
“Lacor hospital once hid 10-15 thousand children from the LRA during those times,” said Abby Hayo, mission coordinator. “Thankfully war is over and the country is healing, but the people are desperate for very basic health services.”
The Uganda mission was the brainchild of Kansas City physician and philanthropist Dave Zamierowski and his wife Mary, who envisioned a relationship in which the American medical volunteers work side-by-side with their Ugandan counterparts, helping the region train its own professionals while treating patients in need.
“From the very beginning Dave said ‘Don’t just pull up in a bus and take over the place,’ “ Hayo said. “He wanted it to be collaboration. We work with local doctors and a local nursing school. And the Americans go home with deep cultural understanding and life-long friendships.”
Little Comfort is on the schedule as Dr. Ostlie’s first surgery Monday morning. Ostlie gives her a reassuring pat on the knee as he admires a horse she has colored in the burn unit waiting room.
“If we can get the wound on her neck to close and get her neck straightened out we will improve her life significantly.”
Comfort will be the first of many in this community who receive a precious opportunity to lead a healthy life.