Monday, April 23, 2007

Life and death in Russia

You would think I am talking about the death today of former President Yeltsin. That would be wrong.

I am interested in the tens of thousands of newborns who will die this year because of lack of investment in neonatal congenital surgeons and the requisite ICU's.

Once I read someone trying to calm people down by saying If a baby dies in Russia does it matter? Well, actually, yes it does, very much. If this child dies from a congenital defect which is treatable by surgery, it matters very much indeed.

I have worked for the past eleven years to provide millions of dollars of supplies and equipment for the purpose of saving newborns who are born with a heart defect. Very often a simple surgery can save their little lives. It breaks my heart that those who have money do not choose to invest in their own newborns. They are beginning to, perhaps that must be enough.

We have new equipment from the city worth $1,000,000 for the ICU which is a miracle. And it would take another miracle for the city to acknowledge that human beings must take care of these newborns during and after surgery.

Russians are very big on new buildings and new equipment, with perhaps not such great followup with regard to staff and ongoing expenses. New buildings and equipment are very glamorous and if I may add an opportunity for some people to earn a percentage of the contract. Ongoing expenses for ICU nurses and surgeons are not glamorous but are yet essential.

It should be embarrassing to them that people from another country are buying suture thread for the hearts of their newborns. It should be embarrassing that we provide groceries for nurses and doctors who are paid starvation wages. I can hardly believe that professionals are willing to work under these conditions.

My reward, to see a month old girl recover from near death, day by day, and finally be discharged from the ICU. Thank you God! If I have had any small part in this I am grateful and humble.

Another curious story is our patient whose father is a cabinet minister in a country which I may not reveal, where there is civil unrest. He urged us to go ahead with the surgery for his child, so that he could return to his country and help with the political situation. We almost never interrupt the surgical schedule for anything non-medical, but this was quite compelling.

Nearly every time I go over there I am tempted to quit as the obstacles are just ridiculous. Then I look into the eyes of a tiny patient, or the hysterical mother or father, and feel that I do not have the luxury to quit. What if it would be my child? They need me and the help that our organization can provide. I must go on, what choice do I have?


egregious said...

Do I have a choice? Your opinion.

Suzanne said...

Yes, you do have a choice and it is YOUR choice. Make the choice that is right for you. Right now, sounds like the right choice for you is doing this work. Tomorrow, that may not be the choice but today is not tomorrow.


NZ Expat, now in KS said...


You chose your values and those values guide your choices.

Once, I was in a total traffic stoppage and someone came running down the median saying that a man had had a heart attack while driving and did anyone know CPR. I ended up giving CPR on the median of a four-lane road, though at least the traffic, once started went slowly, people gawking away. But also, windows down and several calling out that they were praying as this went on.

Later, because it was a small town and on the route to the soccer field where I eventually ended up after it was over, several came up and asked me how I made the decision to help. I told them that the decision was made earlier, when I took the CPR training. At the time, I just reacted and did what I had been trained to do.

So yes, I made a choice, but it was much earlier. I suspect you did too, so thoroughly, that now it feels like a compulsion.

Also, there are head choices, heart choices, and soul choices. The real trifecta (something that GWB is impoverished by knowing nothing about) is when all three coalesce in harmony.

(The man I worked on survived for about six hours, when he had an even more massive heart attack and the docs at the hospital couldn't save him. It was really his time, but the doc I later talked to said that I gave them a chance to try and his family a bit more time.)

NZ Expat, now in KS said...

egregious...are you in Russia now? Or back here?