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A letter from Barbara Nagy in Malawi

July 10, 2009

When a pumpkin is more than a pumpkin?

Meet Mr. F, a grey-haired gentleman too old to know his actual age, who limped into the outpatient clinic several years ago with complaints of not being able to urinate, a frequent complaint of older men in Malawi. He was so wasted it was hard to find him inside his clothes. He had a severe urinary tract infection that resisted all conventional medicines available to treat him. Finally, we were able to determine that he had tuberculosis, and he improved with antituberculosis meds. It took months more of iron supplementation and soy porridge provided by the Nickel-a-Meal program before he was healthy enough for a prostatectomy, but by then our operating rooms were closed for elective surgeries due to construction. As is often the case in Malawi, the waiting list at other institutions was over six months long, so Mr. F waited and waited, with a tube bypassing his blocked prostate, producing numerous problems.

The long-anticipated day of surgery finally arrived and was missed because Mr. F couldn’t find a blood donor, which is required before prostate surgery can take place. By this time Mr. F and I were becoming good friends! A blood donor was arranged from within the hospital staff, and then Mr. F had an uneventful prostatectomy and was sent home. I didn’t see him for about six months so I was surprised to find him sitting in the outpatient department several weeks ago with a big smile on his now full face. In his arms was the most beautiful pumpkin I have ever seen, which was a present to thank us for caring for him. This was an especially wonderful gift because, grown by Mr. F himself, it showed that he had recovered his health sufficiently to be able to till his fields again and provide food for his family.

When a mission team is more than a mission team?

At Nkhoma we have been blessed with many wonderful visitors who have taken the work of the hospital to heart and helped in so many ways. Our home presbytery of Western North Carolina is among the most faithful, as several members have now returned to Malawi to help for four or five years in a row. (You know you have a great team when they are personally known by all the airport customs agents!) Visitors were here just a few weeks ago and made a huge impact on the work we are able to do.

We have long struggled with a laboratory that fell far short of our needs for patient care. (We are a 220-bed hospital with four operating theatres, a maternity ward, and overflowing inpatient wards that couldn't check a creatinine (a check for kidney function) or do a full blood count. This resulted in many critical patient transfers, significant expenses for patients sent into Lilongwe for labs, and many patients simply doing without life-altering therapy because of lack of lab back-up. Three of our last five maternal deaths had significant medical problems that we couldn't adequately treat due to lack of laboratory assistance. Fortunately, recent events enabled this to change.

Lab equipment was found that would meet our basic needs, and friends from New Mexico, Western North Carolina Presbytery, and Canada graciously assisted with paying for the machines and beginning reagents. The sending mission lab organization, however, refused to sell the equipment unless there was someone available to install and run it. We were thrilled to learn that a member of our mission team is a certified laboratory technician; she was able at the last minute to arrange a trip to Michigan to get training on the new equipment. At the same time here in Malawi, the unheard-of blessing was unfolding of the availability of a lab technician from Holland for six-months and two Malawian lab technicians! We now have a well functioning lab that has in its first week of operation assisted in the diagnosis of several patients with liver disease, a tiny baby with HIV, a patient with severe kidney disease, a lady with side effects of her HIV medicines, and several others, even with extremely limited testing to stretch reagents as far as possible. We are so grateful to God who has made all this possible, and to our mission team, which was an essential part of making our new lab a reality. The mission statement of Nkhoma Hospital says that we will offer Christ-oriented, clinically excellent care, and with your help we have taken a big step towards assuring this happens.

What else is happening at Nkhoma?

A new service level agreement with the Malawi government allows free care for children under 5, Quality improvement, a safe motherhood program, newborn resuscitation workshops, HIV treatment and teaching, visiting burn teams, mobile ophthalmology clinics, active supervision of health centers, clinics for children under 5, and many other programs are growing steadily. We hope you will make time to come to Mission Celebration 09 in Cincinnati in October to learn more about this and other ministries. You can see pictures and talk more about things that are happening at Nkhoma.

We are blessed to be part of what God is doing in this part of His family, and blessed when we are able to share some of it with you.

Regards and peace,

Barbara Nagy

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 44

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