FAME on, “Friday Night Lights”

A powerful and impactful story about FAME, our first grantee in Tanzania.

FAME nurse practitioner, Kelley Brennan, describes a Friday night in the operating room that saved the life of a mother and baby.

Friday Night Lights

by Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Kelley Brennan

I’m not talking about the near blinding lights and deafening cheers that signal Friday night high school football in the USA but rather the spot-lights in the Operating Room at FAME. Lights that bring just as much adrenaline and excitement, along with possibly even greater significance and life changing results. You see, we’ve spent three of the past four Friday nights performing life-saving cesarean deliveries. FAME opened its doors for Reproductive and Child Health, including a Labor and Delivery ward on the first of October. Since then we have saved six lives with the ability to perform emergency cesarean sections; something far too many women do not have access to in rural Tanzania.

On Friday, October 10, a woman arrived to see me in clinic, 15 days overdue with her first baby. At first, she simply said she wanted an ultrasound to see when her baby was due. But as I have learned while providing medical care in Tanzania for the past two months, you rarely get the full story upfront. The patients are strong and resilient and they don’t want to worry or burden their doctors. It often takes quite a bit of questioning to get down to the real problem. In this case, the baby initially appeared active and full term on ultrasound, but there was virtually no fluid surrounding him. This young mother-to-be also had high blood pressure and protein in her urine, indicating pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition for mom and baby that can only be cured by delivering the infant and removing the placenta.

The patient was admitted and soon the baby was showing signs of distress. FAME’s head doctor/surgeon, Dr. Mshana, and I made the decision to go for a cesarean section. This would be the first cesarean section ever performed at FAME. The patient was frightened, and rightfully so as surgery can be risky business in Tanzania. As Mama Mshana, one of FAME’s extremely talented nurse midwives, consoled her, the patient revealed the full story as to why she had travelled several hours from her home in Ngorogoro to be seen at FAME. Shortly after sunrise that morning, she was walking near her home and was charged by a Cape Buffalo. These massive animals can be quite dangerous and aggressive. As this terrified young woman ran for her life and the life of her baby, she fell twice, landing on her swollen pregnant belly. This trauma provided even more of a reason for an overdue baby, lacking enough amniotic fluid, to be in distress.

At this point, the patient was rushed into FAME’s operating room, which is remarkably well equipped. You’d almost believe that outside of those OR doors you’d find a large, well funded, stocked and supplied hospital in California or New York or Boston, and not a small, rural hospital in Tanzania. Dr. Mshana, an amazing doctor and surgeon with decades of experience, performed the operation with my assistance and the assistance of his wife, Mama Mshana, who acted as our scrub nurse. We were tremendously fortunate to have both FAME anesthesiologists, Sehewa and Doctor Frank, at our disposal along with Siana, the head nurse, Chana, a nurse volunteer from Washington DC, and Dr. Doug, a volunteer pediatrician from Philadelphia. Under the glowing OR lights, on a beautiful Friday evening, this young woman had the very first cesarean section at FAME. Dr. Mshana and Mama Mshana worked as a well oiled machine; you’d never know it had been a few years since they’d last performed a cesarean section.

This patient was complicated. She’d suffered a trauma on top of being pre-eclamptic; her baby was 15 days overdue and surrounded by almost no fluid, covered in meconium and clearly in distress. After delivering the infant, a baby boy, we noted that the placenta had abrupted, starting to separate from the wall of the uterus and soon the patient was hemorrhaging. Due to the talented and dedicated staff at FAME, along with the availability of necessary supplies and equipment, this young mother and her baby boy survived. FAME is an amazingly special place, that provides tremendous care to all of its patients and saves lives on a daily basis. I can’t think of a place I’d rather spend my Friday nights than under the OR lights in the operating room at FAME. It was such an amazing experience to take part in that I’ve decided to repeat it twice more on the past two Friday nights. I think if I keep this up, attracting the high risk Obstetric patients for cesarean sections every Friday night the staff here just might kick me out.

Read more from FAME here.

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