Thirteen pairs of helping hands (Dr. Emily Dornblaser, Karen Wadman NNP, Dr. Jen Morton, Sarah Rheault, Dr. Patricia Morgan, Suzanne Bruen, Dr. Stephen Jendzejec, Trish McLaughlin, James Mabry, Meagan Chandler, Chelsea Bunker, Shayne Foley, and Casey Toombs) embarked on a journey toward the twin cities of Sekondi and Takoradi in Ghana, Western Africa over UNE’s spring break where they will provide basic and sustainable care for the local community by working alongside the Ghana Health Service.
When we awoke Sunday morning, we were greeted by Magdalena, a local seamstress who dropped off beautiful handmade dresses for us to wear to the Sunday services presided over by Rev. Bob Andoh, whose church is hosting our health mission.
Magdelena had taken measurements earlier in the week and some of the students had selected their own fabrics, which were rich and vibrant. The results were astounding, and one of our students, Pamela, was so taken with the designs that she asked Magdalena to make her dress for her wedding scheduled for next year.
After church we returned to the clinic in the afternoon. An elderly man was waiting with a large grin, and I was told that he was a returning patient. On the first day of the clinic last week, he walked in with a handmade, oversized crutch and patiently waited his turn; when asked what he came in for after he limped to his seat, he simply said he had “a pain in his leg.” Upon inspection, a large gaping and swollen wound stretched from just below his knee all the way down to his foot. It had to be intensely painful.
He shared that it was the result of lumber accident six month ago. His wound was cleaned and carefully dressed, and he left the clinic with a new walking boot and crutches, and has been back every other day to have his wound checked and dressed, each time entering the clinic with a smile that never ceases.
On Sunday evening we took a walk along the water in Sekondi. A group of young men played soccer and we stopped a few minutes to watch. They enjoyed their American audience and we mused whether another future World Cup soccer player was in our midst!
UNE Director of Communications
After an 11 hour flight from Dulles, we were on the ground in Accra and anxious to join our 13 other colleagues and students who have been in Western Ghana since July 29, providing direct care services to the community in the “twin cities” of Sekondi and Takoradi. It’s an interprofessional group of physical therapists, dental hygienists, physician assistants, nurses, physicians, and public health professionals.
After quickly moving through Customs/Immigration, where we provided electronic scans of our both of hands, we grabbed our luggage in baggage claim and were greeted by Frank, the health mission’s community worker. Frank is a longtime partner in Ghana who has assisted us during the health mission for many years; he stayed by our side for the next seven hours, safely navigating our way to our final destination in Sekondi via taxi, bus and car. Traffic in the capital city of Accra is tense for those of us unaccustomed to the narrow and congested streets, and we were relieved to have his calm and cheerful company.
Since our arrival in late July, the clinic has treated close to 300 patients. Many of the children, parents and elderly who visit the clinic have no health insurance and little access to medical care. Many also turn to the indigenous healing practices. Patients start waiting in line as early as 4:30 a.m. Frank assigns them a ticket when he arrives and they patiently wait their turn.
Access to safe drinking water is a challenge in this region, and many of the illnesses such as malaria and intestinal parasites reflect that. High blood pressure, children with malnutrition, and various injuries are also common.
The children at the clinic are playful, friendly and inquisitive. They are delighted to watch a medical glove magically transformed into a five-fingered balloon, and they giggle when they see a photo of themselves played back on a digital camera. During the course of the day I notice how little crying I hear from the little ones, even when their fingers are pricked for testing.
UNE Director of Communications
Hi, I’m Casey Toombs and a medical biology/ Pre-PA student. I spend most of my time as a volunteer EMT and doing research in a lab. I was intrigued by the trip to Ghana to gain healthcare experience and knowledge of the culture.
Today was filled with many enlightening and challenging experiences. We started the clinic where I run the lab table. When the providers suspect malaria from the patient’s symptoms, I am able to use a test using a few drops of blood from their finger. It takes about 15 minutes to determine whether they are positive or negative for the infectious disease. This prevents us from over treating patients with malaria symptoms if they don’t have it. Today we tested about 10 patients and only had two very sick children that ended up having malaria.
I also observe the two providers, Andrew and Jessica, while they see patients. I have been able to help them with rechecking blood pressures or listening to lungs or the heart. This has enlightened my perspective in working with children and has expanded my knowledge of so many different diseases. One of the most amazing things I have noticed is how the mothers care for their children. They wrap them up in a cloth to carry them on their back and just care for them deeply. Another observation I saw was that none of the patients complained of how long they had to wait and were more concerned that they were getting the chance to get care. I am also truly amazed by how resourceful everyone is and how they use what they have, such as splints made of cardboard or cloths to carry children.
Two of the community workers also brought us to a woodcarver and the Takarodi market. The woodcarver had many incredible pieces that you could see the hard work they spend on them. In the market, it was amazing how all the children run up and are so excited to see you and ask your name. It was definitely a busy market and crowded but no one was in a rush or rude in any way. I have definitely gained a new perspective in how simple life can be and how ridiculous it is to stress about the little things in life.
Today’s clinic can only be described as one that was seamless in every aspect. Despite unrelenting heat and temperamental water flow, our cohort came together to deliver the best care possible to every patient who walked through the doors of the Assemblies of God Church in Sekondi , West Ghana. The community workers (Clifford, James & Felicia) and I joined with nurses Jen S. and Brenda C. to greet patients of all ages at the triage tables. Blood pressures, weight and heights, head circumferences (for the infants and toddlers) were taken and charted; health workers and carers sat side by side, putting together pertinent health histories, determining the patient’s 3 most prevalent symptoms and determining health insurance needs. There were some awkward moments brought about by differences in language and health perceptions, however these seemed easily handled – we all wanted to make things work.
Amazingly those who came for healthcare waited patiently (40+ each day). They sat in hard backed chairs, some dressed in garments handmade from local fabrics, some with babies nursing or wrapped in colorful swathes around their waists, others animatedly talking with old friends who had also come by for advice and treatment.
From triage patients went on to see the providers. Andrew T., wearing his beaded stethoscope and bearing sesame street stickers, saw all the children. Casey T., a med bio student, watched as Dr. Andrew examined the children and comforted their parent(s). Adjoa, a community health worker sat in to assist when translation was needed. Jessica T., a 2009 UNE alum physician’s assistant, saw mostly adults, some with serious medical concerns – others with waist pain or malarial symptoms. Emily D. held court at the pharmacy table with Trisha M. as her accomplice. To say their work was phenomenal is an understatement.
And as always Jennifer M. kept everything running smoothly; from making an early morning pharmacy run, to planning an outing to the Effiankwanta Hospital in Sekondi where we toured and learned about how the caring in health care works miracles when supplies and resources are scarce and the needs are high. The day ended with Augustina’s amazing Ghanaian cuisine and great conversation – seamless.
Shelley Cohen Konrad