The bright blue sky hugs emerald trees as I travel down rough dirt roads lined with mudstone buildings. The locals are going about their daily life; walking along on the roads edge being shared with cows, chickens, goats, motorcycles, and bicycles. It is already busy in Busia District Uganda and the day is just beginning. We are looking for Patricia; a woman who came to Bronze Medical Center the day before bleeding and in pain. An ultra sound showed she was retaining parts of conception after a partial miscarriage. We are riding through the busy roads of Sofia searching for Patricia and her husband. They need help getting to the government hospital so Patricia can have a Manuel Vacuuming Extraction (MVE) to save her life. In the car with me is Dr. Sam Wafula, Director of Bronze Medical Center and my husband Robert Royl who is Chief Medical Officer for Project Hope for Ugandan Women.
After a brief search we located them. Patricia was clinging to her husband stumbling through the dirt street dodging frantic pedestrians and cluttered traffic, barely walking. Robert immediately jumped out of the jeep to assist her husband. They hooked their arms around her body as she let her arm fall around her husband’s neck pressing her weight on him. He stumbled back to brace his footing. I sat in the back of jeep paralyzed with fear. I have no medical training. I have no idea how far we are from the hospital. I only know this woman is dying and she is climbing in the back seat with me. Through the committed strength of both men, Patricia is hoisted up onto the bench seat next to me. There is a moment as she enters the car that our eyes meet and lock. I can see the pain in her eyes. I can feel it in my bones. I open my arms and Patricia collapses into my embrace.
I hold her tight as we travel down the rough roads, hitting one unavoidable pot hole after the other. Her skin is so hot it feels like it is burning mine. I can hear her mumbling in pain and feel her heavy breath on my chest. Her entire body is trembling from pain. I can feel her breathing stop and she becomes dead weight leaning against my body, her skin still on fire. I am helpless in this moment. The heavy breathing and trembling starts again; this continues on and off for the entire 20 minute ride to the hospital. I hold her and whisper in her ear, “It’s going to be ok. You are going to be ok.” But honestly I didn’t know if that was true.
The jeep pulls off the road onto a grassy path that is surrounded by mudstone, freestanding buildings. Everything is chaotic and unorganized. There are women lined up outside and children crying. I can hear a man yelling with anger. We have arrived at the government hospital. Patricia’s husband, Robert, and Sam bail out of the vehicle; Sam is on his phone coordinating with the staff inside, Robert is taking vitals, and her husband is pacing at the front entrance of the hospital. I still have Patricia firmly in my grasp shaking. The men gently remove her from the vehicle on Sam’s command. She again drapes her arms over Robert and her husband’s neck. They lock arms around her waist and the three of them stumble past an endless line of women towards the hospital entrance. I follow behind with Patricia’s sweater, nervous and shaking. We walk into the dimly lit foyer. Women are sitting on hard benches pressed against the wall. Some are crying and some are praying. I can hear that man yelling even louder now. We round the corner towards the triage room and are greeted by a domestic situation. A man is standing over a pregnant woman screaming at her with his finger pointed in her face. She is staring blankly at the ground saying nothing. We push our way past them and lay Patricia down on the exam table. We walk outside and I hand her sweater to her husband who is explaining how much he appreciates our help and that he is scared. I am shaking and can still feel her hot skin against mine. I can still smell the sweat on her skin and remember the look in her eye. I look over my right shoulder and see a USAID poster hanging on a very old tent. The sign is torn and weathered like our commitment to these people. The sky is still bright blue and the trees emerald, but the feel of the day has darkened. Later we learned Patricia needed emergency surgery to live. It would take hours for me to fundraise the money needed and then it would be days before Patricia received the emergency surgery.
In America the condition Patricia was suffering from is very treatable, but it commonly kills in Uganda. Patricia lived because of the collaborative efforts of Bronze Medical, PHFUW, and SCAN; Bronze Medical brings quality health care to remote areas of Busia District, PHFUW organizes the funds to support Bronze Medical so Ugandan women can receive free reproductive health care, while SCAN brings government awareness on the imperative need to secure the foreign aid budget for programs that work.
The US started a campaign in Africa to help combat life threatening health issues and preventable deaths; it is our responsibility to continue that fight. We cannot engage and then walk away. The people of Uganda are passionate, vision driven people with the desire to make their country a place to thrive. They have ideas; they simply need the resources. Please join or continue to fight with SCAN to end maternal mortality by encouraging your elected officials to support the Reach Act.
Every person wants health and security. Every person needs health and security. Every person deserves health and security. This is true wherever you are in the world. Whether you walk on paved streets, dirt roads, or jungle floors, we walk the same path regardless of what surrounds it. There will always be clearances and overgrowth. We will always have to accept that with the good and easy times there will always come bad and rough times. It is our responsibility to choose our perspective and that is how we get further down the path.
I have been working in Uganda for two years and I can honestly say there is never good news that isn’t accompanied by a tragedy. I could get lost in the sadness, but instead I use it to work harder. About a year ago I wrote about a woman named Doreen. She went into labor with her 5th child as she was being taken to the government hospital on the back of a motorcycle. On the side of the road, as her husband watched, Doreen delivered a still born baby and then bled to death. I will never forget her or that story. I use the sadness I feel from it to try to do better every day for women who are like Doreen. I often wake to news that is unsettling and I spend a good part of my day wondering how we can prevent these types of horrible situations from happening.
Earlier this year, Sam (Founder of Bronze Medical) began explaining the urgent need for a portable ultrasound machine and printer. Project Hope for Ugandan Women worked hard to raise funds for this machine. Through our hard work and generous donations, Bronze Medical Center was able to purchase this life saving technology. I asked Sam to share with me an instance where the ultrasound machine has made the difference between life and death. This is his response.
A pregnant mother of 3 went to a government hospital to receive care because of pain she was having in her abdominal area. Because of the Ugandan Medical Association strikes (learn more here), she was turned away and told to go to Bronze Medical Center because they knew we had the ultrasound machine and were not participating in the strike. She came to us by motorcycle taxi in a great deal of pain. We used the ultrasound machine to assess her pain and discovered she was pregnant with twins, but both had died in utero. She needed emergency surgery so we paid an ambulance driver $20 to take her to Mbale Regional, a two hour drive, to have an emergency caesarean surgery.
The woman was experiencing intra-uterine fetal death. In cases where the body doesn’t naturally delivery the deceased child the condition can cause severe bleeding. I cannot say that this case was the same as what Doreen experienced, but I can say it was very similar. Both of Doreen and this mother were desperately racing on motorcycle to get to a hospital for labor pains and both delivered stillborn. This lady went to Bronze because of the hard work Sam, his wife, and their staff has done advocating in their community. The government hospital that refused her knew where to send her. Bronze is known for helping women in need without cost and now we are known to have lifesaving medical equipment. This woman would have left three children to be orphaned, but we stopped that from happening.
Project Hope for Ugandan Women and Bronze Medical set out on a mission to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Uganda. We work daily to understand the need of women and community as a whole. Daily we find new issues that need to addressed, one just as equally as important as the other. We appreciate all the support we have received over the last two years. Every moment spent writing a proposal, every dollar given, every talent shared leads to a woman’s survival.
Through your donations we were able to purchase an autoclave for Bronze Healthcare Initiative. This is an essential piece of equipment for any hospital or clinic. It is used for sterilizing surgical equipment, laboratory instruments, pharmaceutical items, and other materials. Very similar to a pressure cooker, an autoclave uses steam to kill bacteria, spores and germs resistant to boiling water and powerful detergents to help reduce the chances of infection. Thank you to everyone who made this possible through private donations.
We are now gearing up to purchase a centrifuge, an instrument used to separate blood into three main components: red blood cells, white blood cells, and plasma. This instrument is a vital first step in being able to perform lab work. This piece of equipment cost $150 and will be used to speed up diagnoses from lab work, allowing the women and children of Busia to receive faster and more accurate care!
Working together, we are making Busia a safer place to live – one donation at a time!
As soon as the heels hit in the ground in D.C., Project Hope for Ugandan Women’s President and CEO, Sharon Royl, was learning ways to advocate for the support and protection of domestic and international funding programs under the training and guidance of Save the Children Action Network (SCAN). Domestically she would be fighting to protect funding for Early Childcare Education (ECE) programs such as Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). ECE is facing a 30% cut in the president's recently released “skinny” budget. Internationally she would be fighting to protect the budget for Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH) and Nutrition programs. Believe it or not, less than 1% of the United States budget goes to International Affairs, meaning only $800 Million dollars is being spent on maternal and newborn health internationally. Save the Children is not asking for an increase, but a promise of protection of what is already being allocated. Now $800 million dollars sounds like a lot, but thinking in terms that the overall federal budget is approximately $4 trillion dollars, it really is a small amount to ask.
Before heading to Capitol Hill for the rare chance to sit down with several members of the Senate and The House of Representatives on Tuesday, she was able to attend training classes at the Kellogg Convention Center lead by Save the Children Action Network district leaders. The training included social media classes, tips in organizing advocacy strategies, and advice on contacting your representative. She attended many panels held by former and current esteemed members of government as well as SCAN corporate staff and state leaders. In her own words, Sharon describes her trip to Washington, D.C. and her experience working with Save the Children Action Network.
Day one in DC consisted of planes, training, and meeting my fellow 225 advocators. I was up at the crack of dawn (beautiful sun rise by the way) to catch my plane, landed a little over an hour later, and had one hour to get to the Kellogg Convention Center to check in, grab my badge, and roam around smiling at everyone. The summit opened with Mark Shriver, President of SCAN, giving an inspirational speech about what advocacy is and, equally as important, what it is not.
As advocates we are relentless, but we are polite. We are strong in our beliefs, but respectful to those who oppose. From the immediate start we were reminded that we are advocating for non-partisan issues and that our political beliefs had no relevance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, but instead it was our stories that would push us to the top of the priority list. They provided us with a fantastic dinner and we had the opportunity to socialize. For me, bedtime came early (8pm to be exact). I had a lot of work to do for Project Hope and a lot of new information to digest. I met my roommate, Jennifer from Mississippi, and we instantly bonded. She was already in her PJ's and ready to watch some Steve Harvey. I stayed up later than I should have but managed to get about 5 hours sleep total. Tomorrow would consist of panels and classes and then a social dinner.
My favorite panel by far was, “Being a voice for kids: Stories from the Field” because of one woman - Victoria Lwesha. Lwesha works as Senior Maternal and Newborn Health Advisor for Save the Children Malawi, which is located in southeastern Africa. Lwesha started as a medically trained midwife, but after working with under qualified medical personnel she went back to school so she could become the facility trainer. She shared her heartbreaking stories from the field; followed by inspirational thoughts on what we do to change how the stories are ending. At the end of the panel all the panelists were asked the same question, “what motivates you to advocate?” The entire panel gave great answers but Lwesha’s stuck with me; “We don’t give up when things aren’t working. That first cry of a baby makes me keep pushing forward.”
Day three - Meet me on the hill, it’s going down!
Today I sat next to Victoria Lwesha on our bus ride to the Capitol. She showed me pictures of her beautiful children, a boy and two girls. The youngest is 18 months a full of happiness. We spoke again about our work, but mostly about our families. We wished each other luck and headed off towards Capitol Hill. There is a certain rush you get from Washington, D.C. There is a sense of power and history, but also of change. I ate breakfast in the room JKF announced his run for presidency. I walked by John McCain in the tunnel that leads from the Senate Russell Office Building to the Longworth Office Building. My leader for the day, Alissa and I walked up and down stairs to all both Georgia and Kentucky representatives offices. To give you an idea most teams were at least 4 or 5 people. Today it was me and Alissa from Kentucky. Armed with passion, knowledge, and neat little folder that contained evidence that supported our cause and along with two “Dear Collogue” letters. One was for Head Start and Child Care and Development Budget Grant (CCDBG) led by Senator Casey (D-PA); the second was to support current funding for Maternal Child Health and Nutrition led by Senators Collins (R-ME) and Coons (D-DE). We walked confidently into each office. First stop, Senator Mitch McConnell’s office then on to Senator David Perdue, followed by Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Rand Paul.
Unfortunately because of President Trump’s budget release combined with the Healthcare Bill upset crisis you can imagine all the Republican Representatives were very busy in emergency meetings. However, we made very good head way with the staff. Everyone up to this point was very nice and understood the importance of ECE, Head Start programs and Maternal and Newborn Health and Nutrition. They all were very supportive of us being there and very friendly.
Next I found myself outside the door of my very own district 3 State Representative, Drew Ferguson. Pause. I have A LOT to say about this visit, but it will be written another time because I want to stay on subject. Let me just say, I am very disappointed in Representative Ferguson's views. Ok, move on. We ended the day with a trip to Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky's office. His legislative assistant was very prepared. She was on board with Head Start and already knew of the budget cut hits it would take. I didn’t even have to speak about maternal health because she already agreed with the Reach Act. So that was easy.
Several weeks ago we announced we were invited to compete in the second round of the D Prize competition. This grant would kick off Operation Doreen and launch a sub division of Project Hope called Frontier Medicine. Below is our plan. Please read, feel free to ask questions, or make suggetions. We plan to pursue this even if we are not awarded the D Prize.
November 18, 2016
D Prize Applicant for Global Health, Maternal Health Challenge
Submission ID: 350002336102662493
We are Project Hope For Ugandan Women, a non-profit that started this year with the sole intentions of increasing the availability of women’s health services in the Ugandan region. We exist to support Bronze Medical Center, a 24 hour urgent care facility that focuses on women's healthcare. Bronze Medical Center is located in Busia, Uganda and is led by Sam Wafula, BSN, and his wife Julian RN.
As Bronze Medical Center began to grow exponentially we realized there was a substantial need for additional capital, so Project Hope for Ugandan Women was created. We exist to provide logistical support and state side connections to resources, training, and contributors. Our initial commitment......
Read more by downloading the full proposal....
Not every day is rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes the universe reminds us that despite how hard we work we always need to do more. Today my friend Julian (Co-founder of Bronze Medical and Sam's Wife) said goodbye to a friend; a father said goodbye to his daughter and grandchild, a husband said goodbye to his wife and child, and his children said goodbye to their mother and brother.
Doreen was in labor with her fifth child and too far away to deliver at Bronze Medical leaving her next closest and best option to be transported on the back of a motorcycle to the government hospital. On the way to the hospital, nature took course and Doreen's husband pulled over to try to assist his wife with childbirth. He was not trained in medicine and there, on the side of the road, he watched as his wife delivered a stillborn baby boy and then bleed to death.
I cried for this friend, daughter, wife, and mother. I have never met her but a piece of her is forever ingrained in my heart because I am a daughter, wife, and mother. Because I am a woman. Because I am a human. I allow myself to feel the pain because it is equally as important to sit silently in the sadness of loss as it is to celebrate with pride in victory. It is in quiet reflection of our loss that we can regroup, recover, and re-strategize.
I cannot say that having a trained medical attendant there would have made this tragedy have a different outcome. What I can say is that having a trained person there would have let Doreen’s husband know that everything that could have been done to save her and their son was done. I cannot say that having an ambulance there would have saved Doreen, but I can say having an ambulance would have made her final moments more comfortable.
Marriage and children bring us hope. Hope of a new beginning, of a new life, another chance, a different way, a better tomorrow. When we are robbed of this hope we are left empty. Right now I feel hopeless, but I have to remember why I named this charity Project Hope. A project is something you work on over a period of time. It is not a simple, quick fix. A project involves many different elements, skill set, and talents. So we work on hope. We work on giving it, keeping it, letting it feed us and drive us beyond our sadness and back into optimism. Together we are what we cannot be alone. Together we have the courage to carry each other towards hope.
I am grateful for the people who have given their time, talent, & support to Project Hope. You have given me hope. You are what encourages me to take the leap and try to fly. Whether I hit the ground with grace or sore with humility, I have a clear focus and that is because of Project Hope’s supporters and because of Doreen.
I will continue on with my efforts with Doreen in my heart. Every time I celebrate a healthy birth, I will remember the one we lost. I will do this so I don’t forget to always try. When I have given everything I have, I will dig deep and find more because of Doreen. I will do this because of who we are and what we were meant to do. The end result may ultimately be the same, but we will not go down without a fight.
Today I received word that Project Hope and Bronze Medical have been invited to competed in the second round of a private grant completion called D-Prize. Sam and I (along with my husband Robert) have formulated a plan to distribute Misoprostol (a drug that is used to stop hemorrhaging after birth) and train birth attendants in remote villages in Uganda to the standard of the World Health Organization. If we are selected, this grant can be up to $20,000 and would save thousands of lives. I have decided to call this effort Operation Doreen; for the woman we lost, for the mother who left four orphans, for the one who pushes me further daily. I will take her name and remove it from the thought of sadness and make it synonymous with hope.
Wish us luck in our efforts, we have a deadline of November 22nd and a ton of work to do!