A letter from John and Gwenda Fletcher in Congo
“I never thought that I could do an ultrasound examination and understand what the images showed, but now I understand the images and I am able to do the exams! This will make me able to help patients I couldn’t help before!” This exclamation of pride and joy came from Dr. Alex Mvita, a general doctor practicing pediatrics at Good Shepherd Hospital.
The occasion that led him to make this statement was an ultrasound-training program that was conducted at the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK) a few months ago. As often happens in mission activities, several seemingly unrelated pieces came together through God’s grace, resulting in improved skills for doctors and improved medical care for patients. The doctors at the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC)'s eight hospitals have long voiced the desire to develop and hone their skills in ultrasound. The Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), a longtime stalwart supporter of Presbyterian medical missions, had obtained funds for the training of medical personnel and was ready to respond to the CPC physicians’ request for training in ultrasound exams and interpretation. It was thrilling to learn that there were funds to enable training, but what to do about the two major stumbling blocks of (1) no trainers and (2) no equipment to enable the use of those skills?
Well, God had a plan and the angels to carry it out! Dr. Bill Sager, a former medical missionary at IMCK and a Rotarian from Ashland, Oregon, began to work with the Rotary Club of Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo, and his own Rotary Club in Ashland to raise the funds necessary to provide ultrasound machines to the CPC hospitals. Dr. Sager worked tirelessly with the Rotary at all levels and finally the fruit of all his efforts was an International Rotary grant that provided eight GE Vscan portable ultrasound units for the CPC hospitals. An important stipulation of the grant was that the recipients of the machines be trained in their use and care. So now we had the voiced need of the Congolese doctors, the training funds from MBF, and the equipment provided through Bill Sager’s initiative with the Rotary. The missing piece was the trainers.
We learned of two Congolese doctors with experience and education in ultrasound but we were discouraged and disheartened when they requested exorbitant fees. Back to the drawing board. At about this time, Dr. Sager became aware that there was a retired radiologist, Dr. Raja Rao, in Ashland who had special skills in ultrasound and who had done ultrasound-training programs in Rwanda. And concurrently, on the other side of the world, God led us to a German pediatrician (who has extensive teaching experience in ultrasound) at the Vanga Baptist hospital in the Congo, Dr. Friedhelm Forster, who was available and willing to co-teach with Dr. Rao. What an answer to prayer!
The next hurdle to jump was to find a location in which to hold the clinical portion of the training. IMCK generously provided a large room that was vacant and ideally suited for an ultrasound-training room. MBF contributed funds to repair electrical outlets, door handles, etc., paint the room, build exam tables suited for ultrasound exams. and provide privacy curtains for patients undergoing exams. We had a total of 11 exam beds and 11 ultrasound machines that could all be used at the same time.
All was ready, but now the two remaining big questions were "Would the doctors arrive?" (except for a small gift to defray part of the cost, the doctors were responsible for the expenses related to their transportation) and "Would we have enough volunteer patients in order to give enough practical experience for the doctors?" As it turned out, all the doctors arrived. In fact, we had a large number of additional doctors who wanted to participate, but the instructors felt that we already had too many students and that the teaching would suffer if we increased the number. IMCK arranged with local radio stations to notify the community that anyone needing an ultrasound who agreed to be examined by the trainees under the supervision of the instructors would be examined free of charge. The response was overwhelming. We had more than enough patient volunteers so the doctors had plenty of work to do and lots of good experience to learn from. Praise The Lord!
The training program included one or two hours of PowerPoint lecture each morning with the remainder of the day devoted to doing practical ultrasound exams. During the eight days of ultrasound exams our students were able to perform more than 400 examinations, covering all areas of interest (obstetric, gynecologic, general abdominal, hepatic, renal, pancreatic, cardiac, thyroid and vascular), and they also received training in the use and care of the GE Vscan units and templates for printing ultrasound reports.
It was a very successful program due to the keen interest of the students and the dedication of the instructors, Drs. Raja Rao and Friedhelm Forster, both of whom donated their time and provided the instruction at no charge. If there was one complaint from the doctor students, it was, "We want to have more training!" Many thanks to MBF for providing funding that made the program possible, to the CPC Medical Department for arranging for the training and for making it possible for their doctors to be present despite their busy schedules, to IMCK for providing the location and patient recruitment, to Dr. Bill Sager and Rotary International and the local Rotary Clubs for the grant that provided the ultrasound machines to each hospital, and to the instructors who freely shared their time, skills and expertise. Also, three cheers for the patient volunteers who made it a real success!
We see it happen time and time again: an expressed need by our partners + prayer + the generosity and ingenuity of God’s people = changed lives. Thank you to those of you who are part of the equation. If you aren’t yet directly involved, we invite you to add yourself to the formula through your prayers and financial gifts.
John & Gwenda Fletcher
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 138
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