In August of 2004, Drs. Lily Lo and Jennifer Polley, nurses Brenda Cowin and Lin Grey, and Providence Centralia Hospital microbiologist Julie Smith traveled to Africa for a short-term medical mission assignment.
Our team worked for several weeks at a rural health clinic in southern Ethiopia, in a pastoral village bordering Lake Langano. The illnesses we saw ranged from mild to life-threatening. Some of the more commonplace ailments included scabies, intestinal parasites, and allergies, but more serious, life-threatening conditions like cerebral malaria, typhoid fever, dehydration, and severe malnutrition also required our team’s attention.
Some families walked hours or days to come to Langano Clinic, one of several well-established Ethiopian health clinics run by SIM, the mission organization that hosted our team. Dozens of children with mothers and aunts would gather on the lawn at sunrise, waiting for the clinic doors to open. Donkeys and goats grazed near the dusty road while kids in cast-off western clothing played tag or curiously peeked into exam rooms.
Perhaps the most memorable patient we encountered was Alima, a two-week old girl whose mother had died in childbirth. Alima was being raised by relatives who could no longer care for her and when they brought her to us. She was as near to death as anyone we had seen.
Her eyes were clouded over, her ashen skin hung limply from her skeletal 4 lb frame, and anything she ate came out as diarrhea immediately afterwards. Her life hung precariously in the balance for several days, but with aggressive intraperitoneal fluids and selfless nursing care from Brenda and Lin–who tube fed Alima 2 tsp of formula every 30 minutes for 24 hours straight–Alima’s tiny flicker of life fanned into flame. Because her family no longer wanted her, we adopted her for the remainder of our time there, nursing her back to health and eventually transferring her to the care of a missionary foster mother, who transformed her into a robust picture of health.
We heard later that Alima was ultimately adopted by a loving Christian Ethiopian family who keeps her well-clothed, well-fed, and well-loved.