Team treats record numbers in Kenya

By Kim Plummer Krull
On the last day of the most recent Mercy Medical Team (MMT) trip to western Kenya, members treated a record-breaking 454 patients in one day —kenya.gif and played a critical role in an emergency delivery that saved the lives of a young Kenyan woman and her newborn child. 
“Every time, something happens, but it’s usually not as dramatic as this,” said Scarlet Holcombe, MMT special projects coordinator. “This was truly an amazing reminder of why we do what we do.”   
Helping the Kenyan woman who had been in labor for more than 16 hours proved the emotional highpoint of four medical clinics, held April 13-24, in two poor communities — in Kisumu, at the newly reopened Lutheran Medical Clinic, and at a medical clinic in Atemo, both in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK). 
Sponsored by LCMS World Relief and Human Care, the 13-member team (including eight volunteers, two MMT staff, and three Kenyan nurse practitioners) treated a total of 1,172 patients. Many stood in long lines for the rare opportunity to see a doctor or nurse. Ailments included fungal infections, malnutrition, and aches and pains exacerbated by the African custom of carrying heavy loads atop the head.
During the last clinic in Atemo, MMT member Dr. Mana Kasongo was asked to check on a woman in the maternity ward near the MMT clinic.
“The instant I walked in, I knew this woman had been in labor too long,” said Kasongo, an emergency room physician in Albany, Ga. “She was thoroughly exhausted and going into shock. Her mother kept saying she needed to push because they couldn’t afford to go to a private hospital.”
Kasongo examined the woman, 18 and pregnant with her first child. The baby’s heart rate had dropped dangerously low. The mother needed a Cesarean section, but the clinic lacked the necessary equipment for a safe delivery.

Quickly, the team enlisted Rev. David Chuchu, Diakonia Compassionate Ministry project coordinator for the ELCK, to drive the woman to a nearby hospital. The MMT paid for the emergency surgery, using a last-minute donation to Kasongo from a stranger who had told the doctor “she felt she needed to make a contribution” for the Kenya trip. The woman’s donation covered the operation that the pregnant woman’s family could not afford.

The next day, MMT members visited the hospital where both the mother and daughter looked healthy and happy. Through Chuchu, Kasongo learned that the new parents had named their daughter “Mana” after the MMT doctor. 

“This was probably one of the most profound things I’ve ever taken part in,” Kasongo said of her first MMT. Although she was born in Africa, Kasongo grew up in the United States. The trip provided an emotional reminder, she said, of why she entered the medical profession.

She also got a reminder of God’s love. “I recognized what God’s love is, and it’s so much larger than medicine,” Kasongo said. “I am the one who really gained from this.”

A return MMT to Kenya is set for July 3-12. Eleven team members have signed up, but the group could use another doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. Slots also are open for the Oct. 21-Nov. 1 MMT to Madagascar.

LCMS WR-HC coordinates Mercy Medical Teams as opportunities for medical professionals to volunteer in poor communities and strengthen the capacity of local Lutheran partners. To volunteer, donate funds or medical supplies, or learn more, contact Jacob Fiene, WR-HC manager of medical and material resources, 800-248-1930, ext. 1278, or visit

Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.

Posted June 10, 2009

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