The wailing of babies filled the hospital pre-op area, but it was a good thing.
Medical Missions Foundation was giving some of most fragile little people in Gulu, Uganda a tremendous gift: a fighting chance to live.
The team performed surgeries on 20 babies during their 5 days in Gulu for a variety of health problems, including lesions, burns, congenital anomalies and urological issues. Four of the babies weighed less than 6.5 pounds.
Baby Emmy captured the hearts of the entire team. At two weeks old he was a tiny 4.6 pounds and had 2 pieces of his intestines that were not connected. He looked out from his big striped blanket with a quizzical expression as if he was wondering why all those people were cooing over him.
Pediatric surgeon Dan Ostlie and general surgeon Tammy Neblock-Beirne agreed they should work together in the effort to save the baby’s life.
“This is the first time we have done neonatal surgery here in Uganda,” said Ostlie. “The hospital staff would never have the opportunity to operate on babies so small in that setting.”
As cute as babies are, they are time consuming. The team often worked up to an hour just to get a vein that would hold an IV, and Ostlie needed special magnifiers and lighting, which he brought himself. The post op team spent much more time monitoring the babies’ recovery from anesthesia than they would need for a child or an adult.
Everyone feels it was worth it.
“It’s always a special thing to do something for a baby,” said Dr. Liz Germinder, as she headed into surgery for a 7-month old girl who had a lesion on her scalp. “You are changing their health and their parents are just so appreciative.”
Baby Emmy’s case had an added urgency for me. We had learned his parents lost a child the night before the surgery to a fever, a heartbreaking but not uncommon occurrence in the harsh conditions of the still-developing African country.
But the adverse conditions seem to create tougher, more resilient people. Even babies. “He’s definitely a fighter,” said Ostlie after the operation. “He did great.”
It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of the effort to save these vulnerable babies and give them a fighting chance to live. Perhaps Dr. Germinder says it best:
“I tell people this is what feeds my soul,” she said.