Category Archives: Liberia


Catherine ~ Liberia 2018

Thursday was the last full day of surgery on our Children’s Surgery International mission trip. Tomorrow we will pack up, have a celebration ceremony and start heading for home. It’s been a successful trip, with more than 100 surgeries, 11 seminars for local nurses and doctors, and lots of hands-on teaching by the surgical team.

Today has been a very special day for me. I had the opportunity to watch a cleft lip repair surgery on Catherine, an 8-year-old girl from rural Liberia. The pictures provide before and after pictures of Catherine as well as photographic proof that I was actually in the OR for the surgery! (I’m the one in the maroon scrubs as a non-medical volunteer on the trip, working with medical records.)

The pictures are dramatic, but there’s way more to the story. You might notice in the after photo that Catherine was eating applesauce and was being a bit messy after surgery. She had never been able to use her upper lip to get food off of her spoon, and she was learning how everything works with her new, intact lip. Her ability to eat and talk will improve significantly as she heals.

After surgery, I went to the family waiting room with Anna Koppel, RN, to bring Catherine’s aunt to the recovery room. When we called Catherine’s name, her aunt jumped up and practically danced to the door. As we made our way back to recovery, she exclaimed that Catherine would now be able to attend school. She related that when Catherine was with other kids in her village, they would stand in a circle around her and simply stare.

Catherine’s aunt had heard that CSI was coming to Liberia and was determined to give Catherine this chance at a better life. She rode her scooter an hour into the bush to get Catherine and then another four hours to Firestone Duside Hospital.

I’ll end by acknowledging with thanks the work that CSI does to make such miracles happen, and for the gifts of people like Dr. Brianne Roby, Catherine’s surgeon.

Sincerely, Mike Tveite, CSI medical records volunteer

See more photos from our trip here

CSI and Liberia

Children’s Surgery International and Liberia – these two things fit together so beautifully. My name is Janet Darden. My husband, Don, is Director of Administrative Operations at Firestone Natural Rubber in Liberia. This is my second year to be a part of the CSI mission.

I’m not planning to write about the Liberian children this year, although their stories are incredibly moving. Instead, let me tell you what I have witnessed in watching the medical and support staff of the CSI Liberia 2018 team.

I see the doctor and nurse who make room for one more surgery in an already overwhelmingly busy OR schedule, often after kneeling in the rocks, outside in the heat, just to listen to a mother describe her child’s health problem.

That same doctor or nurse may lecture and teach for two hours, skipping lunch, just to train their Liberian colleagues. I choke up each time an OR nurse tenderly carries a young patient to the PACU, where he or she is met by the best of the best CSI pediatricians and nurses. And the medical records or logistics staff – well, what can I say? This mission would never happen without them.

Oh, and I love the happy place – the surgical ward – where children continue to heal. CSI and Firestone Medical Center staff dance together with the “soon to be discharged” patients as families sing their thank yous. AMAZING!

Children’s Surgery International, I tip my hat to you! It is my honor and privilege to be a part of this surgical mission and this team.

Enjoy photos from Liberia here. 

Affectionately,
Janet Darden, The Sandwich Lady

 

Surgery Day 2 – Lots to do, much to learn ~ Liberia 2018

The hours are long – up before the sunrise and home long after sunset – but what a great day it was today at the hospital with everyone working together.  We accomplished so much – working side by side our Liberian colleagues we completed 21 surgeries.  The children and their families both in the recovery room and the pediatric ward are so grateful. They treated us to beautiful songs of thanks – Great, loud, joyous African voices.  Today we also hosted 5 professional lectures.  It is fun to listen to our Liberian nurse and doctor colleagues talk about the new skills they’ve gained and information they are learning and how it will help them serve their community long after the CSI team has gone.

The word is out that the CSI team is in country, so we also have many new patients arriving each day.  Families who’ve traveled from near and far, pleading to come in to be screened, hoping for answers and a chance to receive life-changing surgery.

Our Liberian colleagues are not the only ones learning and growing this week.  Tonight after dinner, the CSI team had a very special guest speaker, Sargent Caesar.  Caesar works security for the Firestone Duside Hospital, but her passion is working with families.  She spoke to us about domestic violence in Liberia and the roles parents play in this culture.  She had us all sitting on the edge of our seats for 90 minutes!

Firestone continues to provide amazing support to make this trip such a huge success – everything from housing to meals and transportation and security – the team here makes us feel like we are coming “home” after a long and fulfilling day of work.

See more photos from today here.

Patient Screening/Evaluation Day – Liberia 2018

The entire CSI 2018 Liberia team has arrived, and today we were up well before the sun and the settling of the dew. After a hearty breakfast at the Guesthouse, we headed for the hospital for our patient-screening day. Our usual route has changed due to the collapse of the bridge over the Du River in June. It now takes about 40 minutes to get to and from the hospital on a very bumpy road.

We evaluated 105 patients, some of whom had been waiting for two days. We are able to treat a fairly wide range of surgical problems, thanks to the variety of specialties our surgeons represent: Dr. Vandersteen and Dr. Fox (urology), Dr. Andrews (general surgery) and Dr. Roby (ENT). Pediatricians Dr. Wood and Dr. Hennum, along with our nursing staff, worked together to make sure the kids are healthy enough for surgery. Our schedule for the week was quickly filled with 89 children.

An orphanage caregiver arrived with three young children after traveling 80 km, hoping for life-changing surgeries. One of the boys had been just recently taken into the orphanage and has no family. We are hopeful to offer surgery to two of these children. They really looked out for each other today during screening, referring to each other as brother and sister.

While patients were being screened, the pediatric ward, pre-op and recovery rooms were readied and the anesthesia and OR staff unpacked and prepared supplies for our first surgical day tomorrow. Our teams don’t want to put any unnecessary stress of the limited resources of the hospital, so we bring nearly all of our own supplies. Getting set up for a large number of surgeries in a few short days is a big job!

Tomorrow will be a busy and exciting surgery day.

See more photos from screening day here.

Another day in the community ~

We were up early again and off to three community centers to continue our deworming initiative. We treated more than 2,500 children today, working alongside local community leaders and teachers. The children’s teachers were so happy for the care, because the children have no access to health care and many of them have chronic problems with vomiting and diarrhea that keep them from their studies. By giving them this simple and relatively inexpensive oral medication, their chances of improved nutrition, growth and school performance are significantly improved.

To finish off the day, we stopped by Firestone Duside Hospital to check on our equipment and supplies. Everything has arrived safely from the United States, including the 17 bikes that pediatrician Tim Woods’ friends and neighbors donated in Minnesota!

Many families have already started to arrive in and around the hospital. Many travel long distances to see us and arrive well in advance in hopes of gaining access to care. Fortunately, Firestone provides a place for them to sleep while they wait for screening/evaluation day on Sunday. Leon Randall, our biomedical expert, has all the equipment tuned up and ready for surgeries to start on Monday.

We are looking forward to the rest of the CSI team to arrive tonight. Tomorrow the U.S. and German ambassadors to Liberia are coming to meet us for lunch. This is a great opportunity for the ambassadors to see what Firestone does for children in their country and the plans CSI has for life-changing surgeries this week.

These two days have been hard but rewarding work. We would like to express a huge thank you to all the donors at CSI for their support so we can provide care to children in this impoverished community.

See more photos from our busy day here.

Community health initiative ~ Liberia 2018

The first group of the CSI Liberia 2018 surgical team (Lora Koppel, Anna Koppel, Mike Tveite, Mary Johnson, Laura Michaud, Louann Randall and Dody Barr) arrived at the Firestone Guesthouse in Harbel at 1 a.m. Thursday. Our Firestone hosts Don and Janet Darden stayed awake to greet us, and after a light meal we were ready for some rest.

The following morning we were off with our Firestone co-workers to visit four schools identified as high need. Intestinal parasites are a significant public health problem in developing countries, including Liberia. This affliction can affect a large percentage of children and causes significant problems such as malnutrition, poor growth and even learning difficulties. We distributed deworming pills to about 1,500 children, and everyone who received the medication got a sucker to help the medicine go down!

Schools are a great place for us to treat the children. By school I mean a one-room cement building with only a chalkboard and no books. Children come with a notebook and pencil and bring their own chair to school. The children sang to us, and only a few of the younger ones were afraid of us. Firestone’s Sargent Caesar is in charge of this outreach program, and she will talk to us later in the week about what the word “family” means to Liberians.

Back at the Firestone Guesthouse, we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal. We were joined by Ed Garcia, President and Managing Director of Firestone Liberia, who thanked us and welcomed us back to Liberia.

Tomorrow we will visit three more communities and expect to treat 1,500 more children for intestinal parasites. In addition to surgeries, it’s great for our small group to get out into the community, where we get a chance to see the children in their school neighborhoods.

The rest of the Liberia surgical team is en route to meet us here. The current screening list has 180 kids waiting for us to evaluate!

Check out our photos!

Celebration and Departure – Liberia 2017

It’s the final day in Liberia for our CSI surgical team. Children walking to school greeted us along our route to the hospital this morning, as they have done everyday. Today we surprised them by tossing soccer balls out the bus windows. They were ecstatic to say the least. It was a thrill to see there happy faces.

CSI team members continued our education mission with two classes today. Operating room nurse Nancy Corcoran taught CPR to about 50 Liberian healthcare professionals. She donated two adult and two child CPR mannequins to Duside Hospital. Mission clinical lead Lora Koppel, RN taught a class in pediatric pain management. Our ENT and urology surgeons made their final rounds, checking on post-operative children, and we said a final farewell to our patients and their grateful families.

Over the course of  the week, our team evaluated nearly 100 children, performed 57 surgeries (41 urology plus 16 craniofacial), and performed 15 various other procedures and observations.

Children and their families traveled from as close as the Firestone property and as far away as the furthest borders of Liberia, with some traveling up to four days to reach us. Resources have been severely limited in Liberia since the civil war ended 20 years ago, made only more drastic following the recent Ebola crisis. According to the Liberia Medical and Dental Council, there are currently fewer than 300 MD’s in the entire country.

The resiliency and joy of the people of Liberia is remarkable. Despite the significant challenges they face as a result of poverty, unemployment, disease, and lack of what most people see as essential resources – they are quick to share a loving, joyful and open spirit.

Our week ended with a moving closing and farewell ceremony, which was attended by the Liberian Vice President and the U.S. ambassador to Liberia. A Liberian drum and dance group provided entertainment. Expressions of gratitude were shared by members of the CSI team and Liberian hospital and government officials. It was hard to discern who was more grateful – them or us!

We certainly are grateful to Don and Janet Darden, along with Firestone Natural Rubber, for hosting us in Liberia again, and for all the support provided. Their ongoing commitment to CSI is much appreciated. We look forward to returning in 2018!

 View photos from the entire trip here.

Lube Tech Day and More – Liberia 2017

We have had a wonderful, emotional and successful last two days of surgeries here at Firestone Duside Hospital! Thanks to the generosity of Lube Tech employees and the Bame Foundation, all of Wednesday’s surgeries were supported by Lube Tech! Some of the children and families whose lives were changed thanks to Lube Tech’s generosity, include:

  • Three-month-old Pauline came to us with a painful umbilical hernia. Her mom, Catherine, told us she heard CSI was coming and they’ve been waiting anxiously for us to arrive. Catherine is unemployed, and dad is a rubber tree tapper for Firestone. They have very little money. She told us she was very scared at first but now is grateful and happy we could help her daughter. Catherine said as we were leaving her and Pauline: “Please come back so you can help others.”
  • Habakkuk’s cleft lip surgery was so successful and his appearance so transformed even his mother almost didn’t recognize him afterward. In the recovery room after surgery, she fed him his first real bottle of formula, and he took it like a champ. Mom Ruth, 19, and Habakkuk traveled more than 4 hours to get here – she is so grateful: “Thank you Thank you!!!” she said.
  • One of the most heartbreaking stories we heard this week was about five-year-old Daniel. Daniel has an inguinal hernia. He came to Firestone Duside Hospital with his father Stephen – they traveled two days by bus and spent their savings to get here. He heard about us from his sister who heard about it on the radio. Daniel’s parents can’t find steady work (unemployment in Liberia is at least 75%) and any money they make goes to feed the family and pay for housing. They’ve been saving up for three years, hoping CSI would one day return after the Ebola crisis ended. Daniel’s surgery was successful and he will live pain free from this moment on. His dad Stephen says “Thank you to the whole family of Lube Tech for coming here and helping him.”
  • Thirteen year old Marie came to us with a large mass in her neck. ENT Drs. Phillip and Jon Robitschek spent three hours in surgery with her. Unchecked, we can expect the mass would have become even more large, painful, and increasingly subject to infection. Marie came through the surgery brilliantly, and is now recovering in the pediatric ward.
  • Korpo and Peter are siblings, brought to us by their mother. Her husband is a driver for Firestone. “Thank you so very much for this very happiest of days!” she exclaimed.
  • Nine year old A.B. came with his aunt Gorma, A.B. was born with a cleft lip. He is mocked at school and has difficulty eating and speaking. His aunt heard about the mission on the radio. She’s very happy: “For my “son” I say thank you!” Now that he has received this surgery, he will likely return to his mother who he misses very much.

In addition to these amazing life-changing surgeries, the CSI team has been busy working alongside their Liberian colleagues, providing education and training. Each day includes lectures and hands-on training at all stages of care. Topics included airway management, pain management, facial nerve disorders, caring for the child with hypospadias, pediatric urology and more.

More photos from Liberia.

So Many Highlights – Liberia 2017

How can you pick something about today to highlight, when every moment has been spectacular?! How do you choose one patient to feature, when each precious face has made life so much sweeter?

This is my first experience with Children’s Surgery International AND my first trip to Liberia, which is amazing because I am Firestone’s very own Mrs. Don Darden. My husband is the Director of Administrative Operations for Firestone Natural Rubber Company, and is here in Liberia almost as much as he is home!

Today was my chance to be in the operating room with the CSI staff and our Liberian patients! The first patient was Habakkak, a sweet, tiny 3-month-old baby boy. He was having a unilateral cleft lip repair. I watched as ENT Drs. Phillip Chaffin and Jon Robitschek worked their magic and perform what most certainly was a life-changing operation on such a little one.

Next up was AB, a 9-year-old boy having the same type of surgery. He had been mocked in his community, and has had significant difficulty eating and speaking. When his aunt came to the post-op room to see him after surgery, she smiled the most radiant smile. “Now, AB can go to school,” she said. He has never attended school because of his medical problems!

These dedicated CSI medical professionals give up the comforts of home to travel great distances (using their hard-earned vacation days) and donate their services so children – and sometimes adults – can live a better life! To see these doctors and nurses carrying their young patients in their arms to and from the operating room is something I will never forget! CSI is making a difference in Liberia and across the world. I just hope I get the chance to serve with them again very soon!

– Janet Darden, CSI Volunteer

more photos from Liberia.

Life Changing Day – Liberia 2017

-Edmonia is a 14-year-old girl who has been incontinent her entire life due to a kidney birth defect. For what could have been a long and complicated surgery, Dr. David Vandersteen and Dr. Janelle Fox were pleased to report the procedure was a success. Now, instead of being ostracized by her peers and feeling ashamed, Edmonia’s quality of life has been transformed, making her one of our biggest successes. Her life was truly changed today.

-Newborn Lucia,  you may recall she had surgery yesterday for omphalocele, is recovering well. She is successfully nursing and bonding with her mother.

-CSI ward nurse Louann Randall and Tetee Urey-Morris, charge nurse for Duside Firestone’s women’s unit, presented washable feminine hygiene kits to about 20 post-natal moms at the hospital and taught them how to use them. The kits were from Days for Girls, an international nonprofit organization that distributes the kits in Third World countries.

-Dr. Phil Chaffin lectured on cleft lip and cleft palate to about 30 Liberian nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners and students.

Amid the successes, all of us see multiple reminders of how much need is here that we cannot attend to, due to limited time, medical personnel and financial resources. Our hearts have been broken by a 1-year-old girl with a large cancerous tumor and a 4-year-old girl hospitalized after being sexually assaulted. But while we are facing the realities of the world, we feel grateful to be here doing what we can.

Sally Lannin and three other CSI team members (Ellen Hoeg, Janet Darden and Zanny Lannin) had the opportunity to visit the West Point area of Monrovia today, ground zero for the Ebola epidemic. This community has 100,000 residents packed into a very small area with one physician. Open sewage, school children with no books, and shacks made of corrugated metal sheets are facts of life in their community. Katie Meyler (featured last November in People magazine’s article 25 Women Who Are Changing The World) was their guide. See morethanme.org to learn more, and understand why she received this honor. Katie’s school, More Than Me Academy, provides high quality education for 180 girls. We were able to donate medications, and we gave them personal hygiene kits made by DaysForGirls.org. These kits are intended to prevent infection, and promote school attendance during menstruation. Thanks to team member, Louann Randall RN, for bringing the kits from the U.S.

We are networking with key community leaders here in Liberia to be sure the neediest kids get connected to us.

Check out more photos