Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Gift of Sight!

There are countless individuals worldwide whose lives are impacted by the loss of sight. Many of these vision problems could be addressed with simple medical procedures. The objective of the Church's vision treatment training program is to assist local medical care providers with training and treatment to solve these problems.

In 2006 the vision program was brought to Kinshasa with the aid of Humanitarian Missionaries Elder and Sister Christensen. A partnership was formed with local opthamologists at St. Joseph's hospital.., Dr Makwanga and Dr. Kalangalanga. Dr. Makwanga in his position as Assistant to the Minister of Health over Vision and being heavily involved in the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) developed a 5 year plan to improve the vision treatment of the DR Congo. An integral part of that program was the partnering with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 2006 Dr. Hunsaker came to share equipment and train the opthamologists in some surgical techniques. The equipment did not arrive in time for the training but he managed to get training done and when the equipment arrived the Christensen's got it set up and ready for use.

Another Vision Project was set up for 2007. We arrived in Kinshasa the week before this project was to happen. Dr. Hunsaker returned to Kinshasa with much equipment and supplies and taught the opthamologists sutureless cataract surgery. Throughout the year that we have been here in Kinshasa we have continued to receive lenses and supplies for this surgery so that the doctors could practice the new technique.

This year the program has developed even further. Dr. Hunsaker returned with his married daughter Megan to further the work and support vision program. This time all but the training microscope arrived on time for his training.. We spent Saturday opening and assembling equipment, Dr. Hunsaker had arranged for equipment for St. Joseph's Hospital and for Kinshasa General Hospital, trying to upgrade their treatment facilities and give them the tools they need,

This year we had a special engineer as our Finance officer of the mission in Elder Moon. Elder Moon is an expert in electronics and has a back ground of running a large company that has revolutionized the computer world. He is a fix-it man and we are putting him to good use here in the mission. He is a tad overqualified but when on a mission you just do what needs doing and his special skills served us well on this project.
Monday was spent at St. Joseph's hospital assembling equipment and Dr. Hunsaker then trained all the doctors and techs on the use of the Keritometer, portable slit lamp, and Goldman Vision Field scan.

The original opthamologists in the partnership, Dr. Kalangalanga and Dr. Julie Mkondi have been training other doctors in the sutureless cataract surgery technique. The day we were at St. Joseph's there were two doctors from Camaroon training and drooling over all the new equipment.
The training room was really just an exam room with at least 10 people trying to learn about the equipment. Farrell decided to take a breather outside and made friends with some of the patients waiting to be seen in the clinic.
The second day was spent at Kinshasha General Hospital doing more of the same thing. Dr. Julee, Dr. Mapumba and Dr. Kiwa were all very excited to see what treasured equipment they were getting. They were trained on a new slit lamp, retinoscopes, A-Scan ultrasound, keretometer and a lensometer.
We invited Elder and Sister Moon along as General Hospitals operating microscope was not working and needed some "diagnostics" . We all went into surgery and after some improvising Elder Moon had the microscope working but he had a few things to warn the techs about plugging 120 into 220 plugs.
When we went over to the clinic to set up the equipment the Team from General were pretty upset that St. Joseph's had received the Goldmann Visual Field scan. They thought they were getting it. because theirs was broken. Elder Moon soon had their old machine working just fine but it did need a new bulb to work properly.

That evening we were invited to go to the practice for the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. We knew Megan was coming with Dr. Hunsaker and he had told us she was a professional cello player so we went looking for a cello. Dr. Joyce Hightower, administrator of Mutumbo Hospital (yes, that is the Mutumbo of NBA fame. He build the hospital and named it after his mother), had put us in contact with the Maestro of the Orchestra who is also a cello player. He was going to be in Germany during the time we needed the cello but was very gracious to let us take hiscello. Dr. Hightower arranged for us to go listen to the only all Congolese Orchestra in the world. They practice in a very small room with a full chorus. It was a great experience to see and hear these amateur musicians who have taught themselves to play their instruments. After the practice we were introduced to the group and they were told that Megan was a professional cello player. They asked her to play for them. She was very nervous but it didn't show as she accepted one of the cello players instruments and played a piece from Bach. It was beautiful and she was given quite an ovation for her efforts. As we were leaving one of the cello players came and asked Megan if she would have any time to instruct them on some basics about the cello. She agreed not knowing what they really wanted and it was arranged for them to come to the mission office the next evening for an impromptu lesson.

Wednesday was Safari day. The National Vision Program has plans to develop a Safari program using Dr. Kalangalanga and Dr. Julee to travel around the country with portable equipment and perform cataract surgery. A third of the equipment that the church gave this year was for the Safari Program.

We went to St. Joseph's to deliver the equipment and they gave Dr Hunsaker a beautiful statue, thanking him for coming again to the Congo. Dr. Kalangalang then took us on Safari to two clinics they are supporting in the suburbs of Kinshasa and where they are going to do surgery on the people of those communities.

Transportation is such an issue here with most people not owning cars and unable to pay for the transportation to come into town to visit the hospital. Many of these people in the poorer areas are not even aware that there is something they can have done to help them see again. Cataracts are so advanced in these people that it leaves them relatively blind. The plan is for these clinics to actually go out into the communities and recruit people for the procedure. The cost for a patient is $25 - $15 depending on their ability to pay. Many of the surgeries are done at no charge.

The man in this picture is a nurse who is in charge of the vision program for 6 small clinics.

This clinic is in Malueka (near where we go to church.) It is clean and been renovated and upgraded to meet the standards needed for surgery. When we went to leave one of the nurses came running up and grabbed us and reminded us that she was in our last NRT training and she wanted to report she had trained everyone in this little clinic how to do the Neonatal Resuscitation and it was working. She thought we had come to see her and she was so very excited.

Dr. Kalangalanga decided he needed to be in this picture. The children always come runniing when they see a Mondeli and want their picture taken.

We also went to a little clinic in Camp Luka, another very familiar place to us. This is where the first water project was that the Christensen's started and we finished right after we came to Kinshasa. It is a very poor area. We are currently doing an area project building a latrine for a Primary school there. Camp Luka is very near and dear to our heart and Farrell's favorite place to drive to because the roads are so well defined and easy to maneuver through (Not!)

This Sister manages the clinic in camp Luka. She had a surprisingly well stalked pharmacy and does full immunizations for mothers and children. In the Congo UNICEF and World Health provides all the vaccines, vitamin A, and deworming pills that need to be given to children and mothers. Every certified clinic has access to the immunization program. The vaccines are stored in a huge refrigerator box furnished along with the immunizations. It is a pretty amazing project to see how much support UNICEF has done to get all children immunized.
Both of these clinics are part of the six satellite clinics of St. Joseph's. They have plans to upgrade all of these clinics and prepare them so that the very poor have a place to go for good health care.

Our next stop was Ngaliema General Hospital. It is a large hospital in Kinshasa very close to our office. This hospital was once the hospital for the rich back when the Belgians had a big presence. After the war and the Pillage that happened here this hospital suffered from lack of supplies and upkeep. It is a beautiful campus with multiple buildings. There is a lot of donated equipment but most of it does not work and there is no one that knows how to fix it, such as a beautiful x-ray machine donated two years ago by the Chinese. It has never worked since they received it and they can not find anyone who knows how to fix it or make it work. It sits in a large room and is of no use to anyone.
They had an operating microscope fairly new) but it did not work.
They had a Goldenn Vision Field that was taped together with bandaides.

their instrument sets were old, well used and outdated.

Dr. Makwanga and Dr. Kalangalanga wanted Dr. Hunsaker to see these places to show him how much work is still needed here in the Congo. The materials donated so far are helping many people and the program is growing each year but they desire to continue to partner with the Church to keep the momentum going and help the people of the Congo.

That evening we had invited all of the doctors in the program to dinner at the Mission Home. We wanted to bring everyone together for a social time to get to know each other better and help them understand the role the church is able to play in their overall program. We had all the doctors, the administrators of the two hospitals and an assistant to the minister of health and their wives. It was a lovely evening with several speeches. Megan played the cello for everyone. She is extremely gifted in her playing and wowed everyone especially the doctor's wives who felt they had really been given a gift of a cello concert. Dr. Kalangalanga sang after a bit of coercing from Farrell. Well, he has a plaque in his clinic that is an award for being the best singer. We just wanted him to prove it.

Dr. Makwanga was very gracious in his praise of the church and their willingness to help the program grow. He stated that the vision program in the Congo is the leading vision program in Africa and that doctors are coming from many countries to be trained in the cataract surgery technique. He will be going to Germany next month to receive an award for the greatest improvement's in eye care in any country. He is honored but is quick to say it is the team that deserves the award and the church is part of that team.

Thursday was a trip across the Congo to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo. We traveled by speed boat and had a windy ride both going and coming.

There we met a doctor from Point Noir who is working with the Safari program. She wants help to up grade her practice so she can do surgery in Point Noir. She is the only opthamologist in her hospital.

We visited the Salvation Army hospital where we observed their clinic in action. the equipment is very old. We had never seen anyone use these glasses before to determine a prescription.

The clinic was in a large open room and there were dividers half way down the middle of the room. On the other side of the dividers was the operating area.

Dr. Kalangalanga had brought the Safari program over and had actually operated in this little area. There were also beds in the room where he slept when he came to operate.

We also visited the University Hospital's opthamology department. It also had a lot of old equipment. The head of the department told us he knew how to do cataract surgery but didn't do it because he didn't have the needed supplies.

We were told that if people are blind from cataracts they will operate and remove the lense from the eye and just not put a lens in. People then have to wear very heavy,thick glasses to be able to see anything but at least they are not totally blind. Seems like such an archaic treatment but . . .

We got back across the river just in time for Megan's cello lesson Five cello players and their leader showed up for a lesson. They wanted very basic information and hung on every translated word that Megan gave them. They particularly wanted to know how to use the bow properly. They worked for an hour and then Megan played an American number for them that includes picking and slapping the cello along with bowing. They were blown away having never seen the cello played in that way before. they were so appreciative of her time and wanted to stay in touch with her. They had come to the office in an old Mercedes bus with spot lights wired to the hood for headlights. What a great experience to spend time with these people who are trying so hard to make beautiful music with little or no help.

Friday, the last day, was the closing ceremony. We gathered in the same room at General Hospital that was used last year for the ceremony. We were to be seated by 8:45 am so that the Minister of Health could arrive at 9:00 am. We visited twiddled and finally at 10:30 the minister and his entourage arrived including his body guard.

The Minister presented Dr. Hunsaker with a piece of Congolese art in gratitude of all his efforts to help the National Vision Program.

Pres. Iyomi, Stake Pres. of the Kinshasa stake spoke for the church. Dr. Makwanga spoke for the vision Program and then Megan was suppose to play the cello. The man conducting the meeting forgot her and went ahead and had the minister speak and then the National Anthum sung. finally he remembered Megan but had already dismissed everyone for refreshments. The Minister sat back down and told Megan to go ahead.

I don't know if it was the hall or her playing but probably both. She played beautifully and everyone was touched. The Minister immediately got up and came to her to shake her hand and have his picture taken with her. He was very gracious.

The ceremony was filmed for TV and sure enough, that night we were all on national TV. The next Sunday the members of our ward were so excited because they had seen us on TV with the National Minister of Health. National TV! not bad publicity I guess.

Well it was a full week with little sleep but lots of fun and a lot of good done. We also sneaked in a trip to Thieve's Market and took a few walks along the Congo River in between everything else that happened.

Thank you Dr. Hunsaker for all your good works. You always come through with more than expected and always bring things from your own office to suppliment the program.

Thank you Megan for adding that sweet touch with your Cello playing and your work at supporting your father in his great work.
Thank you Humanitarian Services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for supporting such a worthy program and helping the Congo become #1 in Africa for vision care.

Thank you to all of you who donate the moneys and supplies that allow us to do such wonderful things in this special place called Africa.


Funk Master B said...

Keep busy. You'll have plenty of time to rest when it's all over.

Scarehaircare said...

Every time I get to missing you too much you come out with another post to remind me just how much you are needed in the DR Congo. Keep busy. Stay safe. xoxo

Chaddy Makwanga said...

I am very proud of my country and especially proud of my father, Dr Makwanga for his oustanding work in the country. He is a man of good heart where courage and honesty lay within. He has spent his lifetime helping those in need and he has changed the life of many. He dedicated his professionalism for the help of desperate ones in the country and through him, many has found happiness. he has improved ophtalmology in D.R.C and has trained many doctors to follow his examples. I am happy that he is being honored for all the work he has done in the country. he deserves it, and this price goes to the country and more and over in the familly. I am grateful to the team as well for helping the country to maintain eye health and also for donating new equipments for the improvements needed to be done. I love u dad!

camillo said...

Camillo makwanga,i am very proud of you dad for the outstanding work you are achieving for our country.You are a true role model to me when a comes to medicine. I hope one day when am older i can also follow your footsteps.There is no one who is doing it like you dad.Keep making us proud and also leave some work for me as i also plan to take over.Well done daddy you are making us all proud!!