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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Smiles from Guatemala to Uganda

    by Emily Crowe | Nov 22, 2017

    Supporters like you make tremendous acts of healing and love possible around the world. Here are a few smiles that come from this generosity -- from Guatemala to Uganda. As many of you celebrate Thanksgiving with your loved ones, we wanted to share these words of thanks in many languages, from the places where Medical Teams works.


    From everyone impacted by your support of Medical Teams International: Thank you!

  • A Giving Spirit: One Journey Ends, Another Begins

    by Tyler Graf | Nov 20, 2017

    Becky and her family

    Becky (middle) and her children Brooke, 16, and Cole, 13, stand beside the pallet of medical equipment they brought nearly 1,000 miles to Medical Teams International’s distribution center.

    For nearly 1,000 miles, Becky Allen drove her family’s gold Honda Odyssey up Interstate 5 from Orange County, California. Her destination was Medical Teams International in Portland, an organization she’d only recently heard about, whose address she didn’t even know. 

    She simply pointed her van north and drove – for 16 bleary-eyed hours. Becky was on a mission for her husband. She had medical supplies to deliver.

    In August, her husband Robert passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer. Robert lived at home throughout his illness, even during the grueling last two years when he was hooked up to a respirator. By the end, the family’s living room looked like a hospital, with feeding tubes and wheelchairs, respirators and gauze scattered about.

    Becky wanted the equipment to go to good use. After all, it was part of Robert’s legacy and had improved his quality of life. But none of the local charities in Southern California would take it, Becky said. That’s when she discovered Medical Teams International. While perusing a list of nonprofits that accepted medical supplies and equipment, she landed on the Medical Teams website.

    “And I fell in love with the organization,” she said.

    Becky and her family in front of a van

    Becky (center) flanked by her children Cole, 13, and Brooke, 16, and service dog Angel. After Becky’s husband Robert died, she decided to donate all the medical supplies to medical Teams International, driving nearly 1,000 miles to do so.

    After a brief phone call to Medical Teams’ distribution center, where staff confirmed they would take the equipment, she planned the trip. She’d travel up to Portland, then head over to the Oregon Coast.

    “We’ve been wanting to see the Oregon Coast for a long time, me and my husband,” Becky said. “My kids said this was something they wanted to do.”

    On Nov. 4, she packed the minivan with the equipment, her two children – Cole, 13, and Brooke, 16 – and Robert’s service dog, Angel. The journey’s end came on Nov. 7, when Becky and her kids dropped off the pallet of supplies at Medical Teams’ warehouse.

    It was a bittersweet moment. She was giving up important pieces of Robert’s life.

    “For me, the hardest part was leaving the pallet behind,” Becky said, choking back tears. “It’s like this was the end of his medical journey.”

    Once the supplies were in the warehouse, staff and volunteers sorted them into bins. They will become parts of larger shipments. Medical Teams International ships medical supplies to 27 countries, serving 2.9 million people. Donations ensure that people around the world have access to life-saving care.

    “The equipment and supplies go to people who need them, instead of ending up in the trash,” said Tanya Eckroth, Medical Teams’ distribution center manager.

    For Becky, the entire trip, and the donation, was in Robert’s honor. In Medical Teams’ guestbook, beside her own name, she wrote “Robert.”

    Because he was there in spirit. And with this gift, his legacy will live on.

    Learn more about our medical health products program, which serves nearly 3 million people. Or consider making a financial donation to improve the lives of vulnerable people around the world.

  • Resilience: A Nurse's Perspective on the Rohingya Crisis

    by Lydia Lu | Oct 31, 2017

    Since early October, Medical Teams volunteers have been caring for sick, injured, and traumatized Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, a fishing port in southeastern Bangladesh. The refugees, whose number now exceeds 540,000, live in squalid conditions, with limited access to latrines or hygiene supplies. The settlement is ripe for disease.

    Nurse Lydia Lu is a member of the first-in response team. She writes to tell us what she's seen on the ground as part of the relief efforts. 

    Even though I arrived in Cox's Bazar in early October, it seems like I've been here for months.

    This is my third time in Bangladesh, but it's my first time in an emergency response setting and my first time in a refugee camp.

    On arrival, I learned the ongoing crisis today is not the first time the Rohingya have been forced to migrate to Bangladesh. In the early 1990s, over 200,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and were ultimately settled into what is now called Kutupalong Refugee Camp. The new refugees to this area, who have arrived en masse since late August, have extended out into what they are calling the “Kutupolong Expansion” and farther out to the “Kutupolong Makeshift Camp”.  

    I had heard our team leader described this camp as the worst he'd ever seen, so I steeled myself for chaos and despair.

    Bangladesh, -14 view of settlement, 2017
    Refugees mill about in the Kutupolang Refugee Camp, among the fastest growing settlements in the world. Since August, hundreds of thousands of new refugees have arrived.

    Since that first day, I have been working with the rest of the team to establish a community health worker program to provide outreach on hygiene, safe water, and diarrhea prevention and management education. We equip the community health workers with hygiene supplies to give to families.

    This work has involved walking into the camp, enduring the blazing-hot sun, sliding in-between the shelter-homes of the refugees, balancing on makeshift bamboo bridges, and sloshing through mud and rain.

    "The people I'm meeting are incredibly resilient," Lydia Lu.

    We have tried to make sense of the labyrinth of paths etched into the hillsides, found local leaders, and been introduced to volunteers from these groups of people who now find themselves living together. We have been inside homes, sat where people eat and sleep and congregate. We have walked through the “neighborhoods” of our 19 Rohingya community health workers.

    The experience inside the camp presents a rawness, realness, and starkness that I didn’t realize from an outside view. There is still a disarming quiet, a coping with this new life, that I see around me. The people I’m meeting are incredibly resilient.

    I don't sense hopelessness from the community health workers, who are refugees themselves. They are so eager, so industrious. They are ready to do whatever they can to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors. Honestly, I don’t know how much they will be able to sustain this energy, but I hope they can. And I hope we can continue to keep up with them.  

    Help Lydia and her team support these community health workers. These are refugees who despite losing everything work to make better, healthier lives for themselves and their neighbors. To learn more and to donate to our Rohingya refugee response, click here.

  • Nurse Shares Harrowing Refugee Stories: 'God Help Them'

    by Theresa Wood | Oct 28, 2017

    As members of our Humanitarian Response Team trek through the hilly settlements of Bangladesh, treating sick and traumatized Rohingya refugees, they hear horrible stories. Entire communities have been set ablaze, with women and children suffering terribly as they're caught in the crosshairs of violence.

    Theresa Wood, a Medical Teams nurse, has spent nearly three weeks in Bangladesh helping the refugees. Here she shares some of the difficult stories she's heard.

    <Bangladesh, volunteers with patients - DMC, 2017 (2)
    Nurse Theresa Wood cares for a mother and baby at Medical Teams' diarrhea management clinic at the Kutupalong settlement in Bangladesh.

    A woman with a white head scarf was visiting an elderly woman lying on a hospital bed, telling what happened to her family. She grabbed my interpreter and wanted to share with me as well. Two other women joined us.

    She started by saying she will never return to Myanmar.  

    “They can kill me here. They cannot force me to go back,” she said.

    She shared how a helicopter landed in her village. Many men came out of the helicopter and attacked. Hundreds of men were rounded up and slaughtered. They were tortured first. Their fingernails were ripped off and their beards were burned.

    The woman watched as her husband, along with many other men of the village, were lined up and had “their heads chopped off with a large, sharp knife."

    The village was lit on fire. Babies were grabbed by the legs and thrown into the fire. The woman's parents were murdered. The bad men came to get her girls who would be taken to be raped. But she was able to flee with her five daughters and four sons. They made it safely to Bangladesh. Tears were streaming down her face as she shared her story. 

    Another woman wearing a beautiful black head covering was “very wealthy” in Myanmar, she said. She had a “beautiful home" with her husband. He was very influential in his community because he was a religious leader. When the bad men came, they tortured and murdered him “first, so they could get our home,” she said.  

    “I have nothing now. I wore these clothes because they are comfortable. I am so ashamed. I was beautiful before, but I will never marry again," she said. "I cannot even cover my face. I do not even have the money to buy long sleeves to cover my arms."

    She entered the camp 10 days ago. She ran barefoot with her baby for many kilometers through the jungle and over many hills. She cut up her feet while on the journey. She just kept saying how ashamed she was.  

    The woman in the burgundy head covering was silent. I do not know her story, but she joined with the others telling me to “tell people about it. They must know what is happening."

    We were all crying. I put my arms around the three women and held and rocked them for a long time. They all snuggled in like little children. I was thankful I am tall and have arms long enough to hold three beautiful, strong women.  

    God help them.

    Theresa and her team are in Bangladesh because of your generous support. To continue helping the Rohingya refugees, donate now and learn more so you can spread the word about the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.

  • First violence, then disease -- a long road ahead for Rohingya refugees

    by Dr. Bruce Murray | Oct 25, 2017

    For the more than 540,000 Rohingya refugees who have escaped violence in Myanmar to relative safety in Bangladesh, there's a long road ahead. The refugee camp is a fertile breeding ground for deadly respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.

    But doctors and nurses with Medical Teams International are working in Kutupalong Refugee Settlement, the fastest growing settlement in the world, to deliver health care to thousands of refugees.

    The following dispatch comes from Dr. Bruce Murray, who's been in Bangladesh for the past three weeks.

    As the senior physician for Medical Teams International at the Kutupalong Settlement in Bangladesh, I was called to the pediatric room of the 20-bed diarrhea management unit to see a tiny new patient.

    Bangladesh, -25 Rebecca Duskin-Bruce Murray at DMC, 2017
    Nurse Becca and Dr. Murray treat a tiny patient at Medical Teams' Diarrhea Management Unit at the Kutupalong Settlement in Bangladesh.

    Brought by his crying grandmother, the boy appeared to be about 12-15 months old. He had a fever and watery diarrhea. He appeared dehydrated, was hot to the touch and listless. A Bangladeshi paramedical student carefully laid him on the bed, while I began my examination. The sobbing was still evident behind me as Becca attended to the grandmother and tried to console her. The grandmother was afraid the boy was going to die.

    Our first priority was the medical care that the child needed, hooking him to an IV to supply fluids.

    We were working to save the boy's life. Acute diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children at this settlement. In those extreme cases it causes organ failure and sepsis. Children who are malnourished are particularly vulnerable. The very hot and humid tropical conditions only add to the risk.

    Bangladesh, breeding ground for disease - 15, 2017
    In hot and humid conditions, with a lack of sanitation, the settlement is a breeding ground for diseases.

    Once the IV was running, I turned to see how the grandmother was doing. She was hugging Becca tightly. Through our translator, the woman told her story:

    She and the baby had crossed over the border from Myanmar just four days ago. It had been a very difficult journey, as they had to cross mountains to get to the river on the border to cross. Her heart was heavy because armed men had attacked their village. They had separated the men from the women and children and proceeded to decapitate the men in front of the other family members.

    Her son, the father of the young boy I was treating, was included in the slaughter. 

    She did not know the fate of the child’s mother but assumed she had been assaulted and killed. She said she couldn’t take the pain and that was why it was so important that this child lived. None of us had dry eyes at that point. 

    The woman continued to cry as she held tightly to Becca, releasing some of the pain. The crying eventually ceased and she seemed to relax a bit. Within four hours, the child had received enough IV fluids to appear brighter and more alert. He could even sip on some rehydration solution.

    The grandmother, who was likely in her 60s, could see the child was responding and her crying gradually turned to tears of joy. She cradled the child and expressed that she was so glad that she'd brought him for treatment. We learned later she thought there were other relatives in the camp, and she would make efforts to locate them.

    After 24 hours, the boy looked much better and was able to leave the unit. Stories of atrocities resonate throughout the settlement. We were able to help this child, but this woman's pain will carry on.

    Learn more about Rohingya refugees, their plight and what you can do to help. Consider making a donation today. You can have an immediate impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people. You can give them one of the most powerful gifts: compassionate health care.