Del Mar Rotary medical training project improves odds for newborns in Ethiopia

by Zelalem

With the assistance of the Rotary Club of Del Mar, local doctors are helping save the lives of newborns in Ethiopia.

In an effort to improve neonatal care and life expectancy there, a Rotary-sponsored vocational training team recently certified health professionals in neonatal resuscitation. The two-year project was made possible by more than $100,000 in grants.

“Rotary is what made it possible,” said Dr. Karin Davies, the Rotarian and retired pediatrician who led the team. “I had no idea what was possible through Rotary. It allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”

As a child, Davies lived in Ethiopia for two years. In the 1950s, her father helped establish an agricultural and technical school in Jimma, the largest city in southwestern Ethiopia.

About three years ago, Davies and her brothers visited Ethiopia for the first time since they were children. To their surprise, the small school their father helped launch with 80 students and seven faculty members was now Jimma University, a leading national university with 40,000 students.

“When we were in Ethiopia, we felt such a connection to the people there,” Davies said. “I just felt so proud of the contributions my parents had made. I really wanted to do something as a way of honoring them.”

Before her retirement, Davies worked at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, where she met her colleague, neonatologist Patricia Bromberger. The pair worked together for nearly 20 years.

When she returned from her March 2012 family trip to Ethiopia, Davies contacted Bromberger, who has traveled abroad to train health professionals. The pair talked about working together once again — this time in Ethiopia. At a friend’s suggestion, Davies visited another Ethiopian college, the University of Gondar, to learn what they needed most: a structured neonatal resuscitation training program for nurses, doctors and midwives.

“We started developing the program based on what their needs were,” Davies explained. “But we realized very quickly it wasn’t going to be something we’d be able to self-fund.”

Davies began researching funding opportunities, and at the suggestion of a fellow health professional, she reached out to Rotary. Outlining the proposed program, Davies sent letters to Rotary clubs throughout San Diego County.

Del Mar Rotary member Peggy Martin, a Solana Beach resident, received Davies’ letter.

“It was so compelling, I responded that day,” recalled Martin, who chairs Del Mar Rotary’s International Service Committee, which determines which service projects to fund.

“Every element of that letter just spoke to me. Here was somebody who had a very dynamic program in mind that would help not only a small community, but potentially, the entire country. That is what Rotary is here to do.”

Together, Davies and Martin worked on a budget. Martin also drafted a grant application on behalf of the local club to Rotary International’s foundation, a not-for-profit corporation. Each year, gifts to The Rotary Foundation fund thousands of projects around the globe.

“I really bonded with Peggy when we started working toward this grant,” Davies said. “It was like a meeting of the minds. We shared the same vision.”

Rotarians around the world also shared their vision.

Del Mar Rotary and other local, regional and international clubs donated to the project, including La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary, Blythe Rotary, Valley Center Rotary, Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes and a Rotary district in Japan. The Rotary Foundation matched those funds with a Global Grant, bringing the total to $107,250 for the project.

On Feb. 4, exactly one year after sending her letter to Del Mar Rotary, Davies and her vocational training team left for Ethiopia. The team included Bromberger, neonatal nurse Elisa Imonti, respiratory therapist Emilie Jean and logistics coordinator Fary Moini.

During this first phase of the project, which took place through Feb. 24, the team trained 17 health care professionals in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Gondar. That group — four pediatricians, one general practitioner, three obstetricians, four nurse-midwives and five nurses — not only learned how to perform neonatal resuscitation, but also how to teach others neonatal resuscitation.

The first class of health trainees, funded by donations from Rotary clubs and Rotary International’s foundation.

— Courtesy photo

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The first class of health trainees, funded by donations from Rotary clubs and Rotary International’s foundation.
/ Courtesy photo

After the four-day Neonatal Resuscitation Program instructor course, the Rotary team mentored the instructors as they taught their first course. In all, 84 health care professionals were trained as neonatal resuscitation providers — 16 pediatricians, two general practitioners, 23 obstetricians, 20 midwives and 23 nurses.

The project is already making a difference. At the end of the February trip, one of the newly trained instructor-students informed Davies that he used his new skills to save a newborn.

“After the training, he came to me and said, ‘Karin, this works!” she recalled.

Dr. Kosi had delivered a breech baby, who was blue and not breathing. By applying what he learned through the course, however, the baby started crying.

“I got a little teary,” Davies said. “It was so exciting to hear that, because that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Although team members are already seeing results, their work is not yet over.

In October, Davies and her team plan to return to the University of Gondar to provide additional training.

Until then, her team will also remotely offer ongoing mentoring to the Gondar group, as the group’s members plan to teach at least two more classes in the next several months. Davies and her team also plan to visit the university twice next year to help the group develop a recertification program as well as a teacher-training program.

“We are going to empower the group of people we’re working with to become the local experts in neonatal resuscitation and care of ill newborns,” Davies said. “We’re also training them to be able to train others to take care of these babies.”

For information about the Del Mar Rotary, visit

For information about Rotary International, visit

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