Remembrances of polio epidemic mean African babies will breathe easier
You may recognize her from the AAOS public service announcement (PSA), “Last year, it hurt too much to stand. Today, she carries a nation on her shoulders.”
The story of Dr. Olabisi Claudius-Cole was featured as part of the AAOS 75th anniversary PSA campaign. She was also among the “Moving Stories” included on the Academy’s 75th anniversary Web site. One of only 200 doctors serving a population of 6 million people in Sierra Leone, Dr. Claudius-Cole had both knees and both hips replaced, thanks to the generosity of Wayne M. Goldstein, MD.
Without hesitating, Dr. Claudius-Cole responded, “A portable oxygen concentrator. Oxygen is the most basic need we have. I have had problems with different types of surgery, especially C-sections, because I cannot easily measure oxygen saturation.”
Ms. Dowling and Ms. Gurevich promised to see what they could do. Soon, letters were on their way to several equipment manufacturers asking for a donation of a portable oxygen concentrator. Each request included a copy of Moving Stories: 75 Years of Orthopaedics, published by the Academy last year to commemorate its history.
Moved by a memory
The story might well have ended there. Manufacturers receive dozens of such appeals every year, and they do donate equipment. They are, however, hesitant to do so when the recipient is located in the developing world. “We are generally cautious about donating to a nation without the technical expertise to maintain the equipment,” says Geoffrey Waters, President, International Group, Philips Home Healthcare Solutions. “Unless we have a distribution partner in the country, our experience is that the apparatus often ends up, unused, in a corner because no one can fix it.”
But Mr. Waters was curious about the book that accompanied the request and read it from cover to cover. “The section on the March of Dimes made the story real and personal for me,” he says. “It tugged at my heartstrings.” He had gotten to know personally thousands of polio patients decades ago during the epidemics that swept the United States in the middle of the last century. His employer at the time, Lifecare, contracted with the March of Dimes to maintain the 20,000 pieces of equipment used in U.S. clinics to help polio victims recover from the devastating disease.
He offered to provide four portable oxygen concentrators. “Most clinics need more than one,” he says. “They usually have several patients who need them, and I didn’t think one would be enough.”
A life-changing gift
When she received the news that four oxygen concentrators would be coming to her clinic, “I was just bowled over,” says Dr. Claudius-Cole. “It is life-changing for me and our patients.”
Dr. Claudius-Cole had explored other ways to supply oxygen to patients, such as using respirators. The biggest challenge was obtaining the needed oxygen. Buying the oxygen in tanks and having them shipped by air from Nigeria was prohibitively expensive. Having her own equipment provides her with an economical way to supply oxygen during surgery and other times.
When the oxygen concentrators arrived, they were put to use almost immediately. “I was so excited,” she says. “At first I was concerned about installing them. I thought I might need a special converter to adapt from 110 volts to 220, and I bought a step-down transformer from Liberia. But, when they came, I found I could just plug them in! I had some instructions over the phone. They are very user-friendly.”
Dr. Claudius-Cole returned the transformer, and began allocating the oxygen concentrators throughout the clinic. “I have one in the delivery room, another in the operating theater, and a third one in a ‘special’ room, which would be similar to an intensive care unit in the United States,” she says. “I dedicate one oxygen concentrator to patients with HIV or AIDS. We have about 120 of those patients in and out of hospital on a regular basis, and many of them are dealing with tuberculosis as well.”
The new equipment gives Dr. Claudius-Cole more options in her choice of anesthesia, and she no longer fears losing patients because they cannot breathe. “It was so scary before,” she says. “We would know what to do, but couldn’t because our options were so limited. Now we use the concentrators on a daily basis.”
The donation brings
Dr. Claudius-Cole’s story full circle: from a humanitarian orthopaedic surgery that enabled a doctor half a world away to stand tall—to a celebration of 75 years of human healing—to a donation that will enable hundreds of patients to breathe easier. As Dr. Goldstein said, “The chain of human kindness extends beyond our shores.”
Jane Ranshaw is a communications consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org