More than two dozen volunteers — doctors, nurses, technicians and more — from the nonprofit group Seattle Anesthesia Outreach (SAO) will travel to Black Lion Hospital in Ethiopia this month to install anesthesia machines, monitoring devices and dozens of other pieces of equipment they hope will save lives and improve patient care, especially during and after surgery.
When Steve Sands walked into the overcrowded Black Lion Hospital in Ethiopia in late October, he knew it would be poorly equipped.
Just how poorly, he hadn’t anticipated.
“It was actually kind of scary,” says Sands, a Seattle-based clinical engineer. “Exposed wires. Equipment that looked like it was out of the 1950s — some of it held together with tape.”
Laura Adiele, a registered nurse on the same trip, also was shocked by conditions at the only public hospital in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, an urban area of 5 million residents.
“They are warm, beautiful people,” said Adiele, “but their hospital is in shambles.”
Story after story of tragedy and loss can be traced to the lack of equipment considered basic in the United States.
A 2-year-old boy, for example, died at Black Lion while undergoing a relatively straightforward hernia surgery. Cause of death: hypoxia — lack of oxygen — after a breathing tube became dislodged. No one on the surgical team noticed in time to help, though his condition might have been readily detected and corrected by equipment U.S. hospitals have used for decades.
Because Black Lion also lacks an equipped recovery room, serious or fatal complications that develop after surgery often go undetected, such as a drop in blood pressure, a change in heart rhythm or lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.
In a country where the life expectancy is just older than 50 and only about a third of the population can read, the challenges are immense.
But great need also can be viewed as great opportunity.
In that spirit, Sands and Adiele will soon head back to Ethiopia, along with 26 other volunteers — doctors, nurses, technicians and more — from the nonprofit group Seattle Anesthesia Outreach (SAO).
Most of the volunteers, including Sands and Adiele, work at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, as do two of SAO’s founders, anesthesiologists Mark Cullen and Richard Solazzi, also headed to Ethiopia.
Some members of the group will be in Ethiopia 10 days. A few will stay a full month.
In that time, they’ll install anesthesia machines, monitoring devices and dozens of other pieces of equipment they hope will save lives and improve patient care, especially during and after surgery.
And perhaps more importantly, they’ll train Black Lion Hospital staffers how to use and maintain the equipment themselves.
“We want to do something sustainable,” Cullen said, “something that would make a difference when we are there and not there.”
More than $500,000 worth of equipment and supplies for the mission has been donated by Swedish Medical Center and its suppliers, including eight anesthesia machines, 17 patient monitors and six electrical-surgical units.
Swedish CEO Rod Hochman helped SAO secure hospital equipment that’s not being used, or was due for replacement but is still serviceable. “They’re a phenomenal group,” he said. “This was a great way to expand our reach and do the right thing.”
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