Norman humanitarian group brings health care to heart of Africa

Norman humanitarian group 1040i has medical and construction teams working in Africa's Ivory Coast this month. However, their ability to help may be in danger because Ivory Coast customs won't release a container shipped from the United States filled with new supplies.
by Lillie-Beth Brinkman Published: February 9, 2013
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The American medical team arrived a week ago and is performing surgeries and care in the country in tents and mobile medical units they brought in and set up for surgery and recovery, as well as in a cinder-block hospital with a metal roof and foldout windows that the group helped build, Usry said.

1040i is the only outside group working in the area, media specialist Meyer said in the interview via Skype from Abidjan late last month.

“If we don't help them, nobody will,” Meyer said, noting that the local hospital can only treat “minor, minor things.”

“Without us, people go without help.”

Making the trip

Meyer arrived in Abidjan in January to prepare for the medical team's arrival.

He said the 1040i group performed 145 surgeries last year; this year's crew includes five surgeons from across the United States — a general surgeon and doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynocology, cataract, orthopedic and maxillofacial surgeries. All pay their way and volunteer their time. They and other medically trained volunteers are prepared to heal bacterial and fungal infections, repair hernias and cleft lips, remove tumors, fix bladder problems in women who have given birth, and more.

“You just try to take care of whatever needs these people have,” said Patrick Higgins, a fourth-year medical student Oklahoma State University's medical school in Tulsa who is among the returning volunteers this year. “They're just a very grateful people and when you see that it breaks your heart for them and makes you want to reach out to them even more. ... As a medical person, it's very frustrating because of your lack of resources.”

Dr. Perry Brooks, of Norman, also is among the returning crew who went last year.

“I love taking care of people, and there's a great need,” said Brooks, the maxillofacial surgeon, in an interview before he left. “We own about 35 to 40 percent of the world's wealth in this country so I think giving back is critical.”

He said the group will work side-by-side with Ivory Coast residents, including the nurses and those who run “the dilapidated hospitals.” 1040i planned to replenish supplies for the year and are available for consultations the rest of the year by Internet and phone.

On tis trip, Higgins planned to look for a child of about 11 or 12 that he met last year and who was covered in scales that flaked off his skin. Since he returned home after last year's visit, Higgins, 31, has researched possible causes for the condition and interviewed pediatric infectious disease specialists to try to figure out what was wrong with him. He went armed with antifungal medicine this trip and hoped to find him again.

“I can't imagine what this kid must be going through,” Higgins said, remembering acne problems as a young person. “If I can help that kid just a little bit, then my trip is made.”

For Higgins, the hardest part will be leaving behind the people still waiting for care.

“As you leave you're like, ‘more next time, more next time,'” he said.

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by Lillie-Beth Brinkman
Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman
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