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The Color of Life

Our November 2011 WE CARE expedition to Northern Nigeria culminated with the installation of three Solar Suitcases in Wudil General Hospital in Kano. We targeted crucial areas in the fight against maternal mortality: The labor and delivery room received lights, a fetal doppler, and mobile phone charging; the operating theatre obtained surgical lighting to enable round-the-clock c/sections, and the laboratory was outfitted with blood bank refrigeration for transfusions. Wudil Hospital was selected because of its high patient volume, dedicated staff, and tragic statistics. Of the 180 to 200 births occurring every month, approximately five mothers do not survive. These somber statistics were made glaringly clear to us; we watched as a group of men quietly carried a motionless body out of the labor room within an hour of our arrival.  We learned that this mother of 8  had been trying unsuccessfully to give birth for hours and had not survived labor.

With this chilling backdrop, the WE CARE Solar got to work.  Our team on this round consisted of three Americans (me, Karina Garbesi, and Brent Moellenberg) and four Nigerians (Idris, Johnson, Hussaina, and Babamarie) who we have been training for the last 10 days. With three separate wards needing lights and power, we had to divide and conquer.

Our first priorities were the labor and delivery ward and the laboratory. Hussaina and I taught the maternity ward midwives about solar electricity and the optimal use of the Solar Suitcase, while Idris and Johnson attached the bright yellow WE CARE suitcase to the labor room wall. Brent and Karina assembled the solar electricity system for the blood bank refrigerator, a very special gift delivered in honor of my mother.  The blood bank fridge required three 85 watt solar panels on the roof and a 200 amp-hour battery, a significant expansion over other suitcase installations.

As most of the team continued to mount solar suitcases, lights and solar panels, I spent time interviewing midwives and observing labor and delivery activities. The midwives were quite skilled at this facility, and despite the paucity of equipment, it was reassuring to see that appropriate protocols for mother and newborn care were administered. I enjoyed watching two babies slip through their mother’s birth canals, oblivious to the technology being installed around them.

By mid-afternoon, we had completed the blood bank installation and much of the two other systems. The laboratory staff, labor and delivery midwives and I joined Dije Abdul, from Pathfinder International, and the Zonal Director of this region for a small ceremony honoring my mother.

To be honest, it was quite an emotional moment. I had been planning this for months. My mother died in April, and I had established the “Evelyn’s Light” fund to honor my her memory with a blood bank refrigerator for a Nigerian hospital.  I had met Dije Abdul in Kano in July, and she assured me that Pathfinder International would work with the community to ensure the success of the blood donation program. The Wudil Hospital lab director informed me that as many as 20 – 30 blood transfusions are needed a day during the warmer seasons.  For a hemorrhaging mother, delays can mean the difference between life and death.

At the ceremony, I spoke to the group about my mother’s life, her dedication to helping others, and how her own life had been saved by a post-partum blood transfusion after the delivery of my older brother. She was so sick at that time that some of her doctors had literally given up.  A blood transfusion by one very determined anesthesiologist had been her lifeline. My family has always been so grateful that my mother had a second chance at life, and with the improvements and support we are bringing to Wudil Hospital, we hope to give many many women the second chance they deserve when birth complications arise.

I returned unannounced to Wudil hospital early this morning to see what had transpired overnight.  A midwife told me how easy it was to do deliveries the night before, an operating theater technician told me the new LED lights are the best lights they have ever used, and the laboratory tech proudly opened the blood bank refrigerator to show me they were already storing blood.  I looked down with gratitude when I saw the bright red pints lining the refrigerator shelf –  the “color of life.”


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