Winning hearts in Malawi

A surgery in progress.
A surgery in progress.
Usha Saboo (second from left) with the ladies who accompanied the medical mission team.
Usha Saboo (second from left) with the ladies who accompanied the medical mission team.

As I leafed through the pages of the Ethiopian in-flight magazine Selamta on our way back from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, at the culmination of a 10-day Vocational Team Medical Mission centred at the Kumuzu Central Hospital, the heading of an article When less is more, caught my attention. It was similar to my school motto Multum in Parvo (Much in little), which in many ways defined the impact of our Mission in Malawi, to serve humanity beyond borders. Our efforts, though modest, had a significant impact on the populace of a brave and noble nation in dire need of medicare facilities and specialised medical training.

PRIP Rajendra K Saboo attends to a child at the hospital..
PRIP Rajendra K Saboo attends to a child at the hospital..

With a brilliant team of 21 specialist doctors and seven volunteers, and inspired by the driving force of PRIP Rajendra K Saboo and spouse Usha Saboo, Team India (District 3080 in partnership with Districts 3131 and 9210, and members from three other Districts) went about its business of touching lives and making a difference to the many we had the opportunity to serve. The 1.2 tons of equipment and medical supplies we had carried with us was now ready to be put to good use.

We did not go to Malawi with the sole objective of only notching up a large number of surgeries, though those were substantial. The impact lay in working together with the medical staff of the hospital to make a qualitative difference in people’s lives through the expertise of our doctors and train the medical staff of the hospital.

For Patricia and myself, it was a life changing experience, memories of which will linger to treasure. The experiences at the Kumuzu Hospital and especially in the OT was literally like being thrown into the deep end of service in the hustle and bustle of a frenetic medical facility. It was a rare opportunity to witness the unbelievable operative procedures by the real heroes of the Mission — our doctors, who laboured hard, sometimes beyond the call of duty, in saving innumerable lives that hung by a thread, thus making the mission truly special.

What can you say of the two 3–5 day old babies that were operated on; one for abnormal intestinal obstruction and the other born with the intestines and stomach parts outside the body? Our collective chant and prayer was “Baby fight. Hang on.” With the blessings of the Almighty they both made it, as did many others who were treated successfully. Or the 70-year-old man who was successfully operated on after languishing in the ward for over 10 days with intestinal gangrene. Or the 10-year-old boy with a bleeding spleen after a malaria attack, that had to be removed. Or the two stab-wound cases … but for the timely surgical intervention of our doctors, they would not have made it through the night.

The general surgery team operated on a child fabricating an anal orifice after a long and delicate procedure. Then there was a boy with flipped intestine that ballooned out like a tyre on being opened up. Who can forget the smile of the proud parents of the young girl whose ‘permanently’ frozen jaw was freed after surgery, enabling her to open the mouth and eat normally and communicate orally, perhaps for the first time!

There were innumerable other supra and major surgeries in orthopaedics, dental care, burns and plastic surgery, reconstruction, urology, eyes, dermatology, histapathology, gynaecology and ENT, that were ably assisted by our team of anaesthesiologists. Hundreds of patients were also attended to at the OPDs regularly. As tumours, some malignant were removed, hysterectomies conducted and a host of other surgeries executed, days passed in ‘honest sweat’ for the medical team which restored health to many and brought smiles to patients, grateful parents and a thankful community.

The medical team with advisor Dr Rajiv Pradhan and Medical Directors PDG Dr Girish Gune (D-3131) and Dr Bhanu Parmar efficiently coordinated and organised the doctors in various OTs making for a crack team!

Team Malawi also had a fair share of heroes with the Director of the hospital Dr Jonathan Ngoma leading the way, assisted by Dr Carlos, Dr Joseph, Dr Jessie, Dr Kayaand and Dr Yama supporting our efforts significantly.

In the burns and plastic surgery theatre, a Florence Nightingale incarnation, in a nurse aptly named ‘Gift,’ won our hearts for her dedication and commitment in facilitating the work of the surgeons and maintaining an immaculate OT and Burns ward.

PRIP Saboo and Project Chair PDG Madhukar Malhotra were a constant source of strength and support in coordinating, encouraging, liaising and fire-fighting all the challenges and problems of the Medical Mission. Mrs Usha Saboo and Patricia moved from ward to ward, distributing gifts to the children, especially to those who had been operated. The smiles on the faces of the children were infectious!

Past Presidents Manmohan ­Manchanda and Harjit Saggu, our stalwart volunteers, organised the logistics at the hospital with refreshments, medicines and equipment with seamless efficiency and aplomb.”Selfie” ­Manmohan also doubled up as the official photographer for the Mission, capturing the action with an array of cameras and a selfie stick.

The Rotarians and Rotaractors of the clubs in Lilongwe were always at hand to support and assist us to make our Mission productive and comfortable. We gratefully acknowledge and thank Nazir, Usman, Alfred, Chris, Marshall, PDG Stollard, Stella, Dan, Sophie and DG Dean Lungu, for their help. Clara, an endearing volunteer, was most helpful in bringing us delectable home-made treats throughout our stay in Lilongwe.

There were also official meetings with the Minister of Health and our own Indian High Commissioner to Malawi, Vanlalhuma, who also came to the hospital to witness and ­appreciate our work. At a memorable visit to the office of the Vice President of Malawi, he appreciated our offer to help 15 children for cardiac surgeries under the ‘Heartline’ project and to operate on a young girl’s facial tumour in ­Chandigarh. Our offer to train a team of medical staff in laparoscopy ­procedures in Chandigarh was also received with enthusiasm and gratitude.

On the penultimate day of our stay in Malawi, at the farewell organised by RC Lilongwe, our team was felicitated and appreciated for making a difference to the lives of so many. As we bid farewell to patients, medical staff, officials, Rotarians and volunteers, we were grateful for this opportunity to serve and be a gift to the world. Usha Saboo’s words rang so true….

‘When you gift your time in service, You Touch Lives

When you gift your resources, You Uplift Lives

When you gift both your time and resources with love and compassion

You yourself become a gift to the world.

Pictures by Rtn Manmohan Manchanda

(The writer is DG of D 3080.)

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