NORMAN — A medical team working with a Norman-based humanitarian organization returned this week to the United States after performing 93 surgeries in eight days deep in the bush of Africa's Ivory Coast.
The doctors and nurses working with the 1040 Initiative, or 1040i, would have been able to perform more surgeries if Ivory Coast customs agents had released a large container filled with new supplies and equipment in time, representatives said.
The container, which included antibiotics and other medicines, basic surgical equipment, food and construction equipment, shipped from the United States in November.
“We've been shipping containers over for seven or eight years; it's always difficult getting it out, but never this difficult,” said Sabrina Yaw, 1040i's administrator, who served as hospital director during this trip and returned to Norman this week.
On Thursday, the group's representatives were hopeful that they had jumped over all the hurdles agents required to get containers released from customs in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, so it could make the 20-hour or so trip north to the small city of Doropo, isolated in the African bush.
The offices of both Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, became aware of the container problem in the last couple of weeks and were trying to help resolve it. Norman plumber Bob Usry, who has gone on previous trips, said he had also reached out to a friend who ships internationally as part of her job to see if she could help using her connections.
On Friday, 1040i representatives were disappointed to learn that they weren't getting the container in time for the arrival of a second phase of workers, who are arriving in Doropo this weekend and will be there for the next 10 days or so to build an elementary school.
“We thought it was released,” Yaw said. She said agents keep giving the group a list of things they had to do, questions they had to answer and signatures they required to get the container released. Once 1040i gets them, it has to “start all over the next day.”
And each day, 1040i has to pay money to the Ivory Coast government to store the container.
“The longer it stays in customs, the more money this organization has to pay,” she said. “The cost just grows significantly.”
Despite the setback, the group's members were amazed at all the work they were able to accomplish to help a group of people who don't get regular medical care, Yaw and Usry said.
Working in a cinder block hospital built in the 1960s, mobile surgical tents and a trailer, doctors and nurses fixed cleft palates, treated burns, performed OB-GYN surgeries such as fistula repairs on women's bladders, removed cysts and other benign tumors and treated illnesses.
“They just told me there were so many miracles that they witnessed happened without some of those supplies,” Usry said. “They were limited, but we'll just do more next year.”
Yaw said that patients wait in line for hours each day hoping to receive care.
“They understand that when we're not there, they don't receive anything,” she said.
If the container is released early in the week, it will have to travel about 20 hours north to get to the small city of Doropo, where 1040i is working, Yaw said.
To learn more
For more information about the medical phase of the trip and read about the second phase, which is gearing up this weekend, go to www.