September 19, 2016

A Son’s Challenge to Save His Mother’s Life

Written by Teruwork Gultie

This post originally appeared on Jhpiego’s website.

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia—Dr. Melkamu Baye Agegenehu, a promising young surgeon at Felege Hiwot Referral Hospital in Bahir Dar, recognized the challenges faced by staff at the busy hospital in the Amhara Region of northern Ethiopia. But when his mother became gravely ill, he quickly learned that a lack of supplies and other disparities at the health facility could even prove fatal for his aged parent.

Last year, Dr. Melkamu, as he is known by colleagues, received a call at work that his mother, Birqe Tsegaw, a diabetic with hypertension and a non-functioning kidney, was ill. He rushed home to find her in distress, with difficulty breathing and swollen extremities. When Birqe was taken to a hospital, she was referred to Felege Hiwot where she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

As his mother’s condition declined, Dr. Melkamu became more and more alarmed. When both her kidneys stopped working altogether, he feared the worst because there was no dialysis available. Even when doctors determined that her renal failure was due to an obstruction caused by a kidney stone—a condition that could easily be addressed with surgery—the physician-son remained concerned. Performing the surgery wasn’t a given because it required two basic tools that Ethiopia’s regional hospitals don’t typically have: a J-stent and a cystoscope. Due to his mother’s deteriorating condition, it wasn’t possible to refer her to a well-resourced hospital in the capital, Addis Ababa, about 300 miles away.

An estimated five billion people worldwide don’t have access to basic surgery. In many developing countries, lack of surgical specialists, technicians, supplies and robust referral systems can exacerbate health conditions that a simple surgical procedure could easily remedy. This was the situation Dr. Melkamu faced with his ailing mother.

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