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From Goddard To Ghana: A Woman's Journey

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On Hatteberg’s People – a special 2-part report. - From Goddard to Ghana – A Woman’s Journey.

Last month, I traveled to Africa following the story of Medge Owen, a doctor and former Goddard resident, as she makes her mark on the world stage helping birthing mothers and their babies.

In Kansas, Ghana is half a world away on Africa's west coast. We sometimes see the human tragedy that unfolds in many countries there, but we seldom - as individuals - do anything about it. It’s so far away, we say… and what could we do anyway? Medge Owen could have said the same thing. She didn't. The third world was calling.

"I bring people together for the common good of humanity," She tells me. "I had a strange dream or passion, even as a young girl, that I wanted to come to Africa."

Goddard, Kansas, is a long way from Ghana, West Africa.

"I'm a Kansas girl through and through," she claims.

It is here where Dr. Medge Owen grew up.

"I'm very close to my family."

Her parents still live here and it is Kansas where she received her medical degree.

"I think it is those deep roots that have really helped me grow."

Her work now is a world away -- to developing countries like Ghana.

"It is like a piercing in my heart that tells me that this is where I'm to be at this time." she says. "People are so used to death, because it has been all around them."

Dr. Owen is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Obstetrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem. Through her travels and personal experience, she found that health care for women in third-world countries was crying for intervention.

"The realty is that, in countries like Ghana and most of Africa and most of Asia, death during birth is a reality."

For example, in Ghana, culturally -- women are given no spinal blocks to help ease the pain of childbirth and statistics for birthing mothers are sobering.

"In America a woman has a 1-in-5,000 chance of dying while having a baby. Here in Ghana, the chance is 1-in-50. In other African countries, that statistic is even worse.

"Many people come into the birthing process fearing for their very lives, which is a common reality," Owen says. "Health care here, as it is in many parts of Africa, is as it was in America 100 years ago. Some of what we're doing here is like we are embarking on a project in outer space, because the cultures in medicine and the culture is so different."

In a ward at Ridge Hospital in Accra, the capitol of Ghana, childbirth is natural, painful, and many times deadly.

In response to what she sees as a growing and unfulfilled humanitarian need, Dr. Owen founded a non-profit humanitarian organization called Kybele dedicated to helping birthing women and their babies simply survive.

"We are trying to build up a model that then can be used in other key facilities around this country and I hope will one day be a model for all of Africa," Owen says.

A maternity ward's small room will have six to eight mothers giving birth in the same room at the same time. Most will be attended by midwives.

"Babies aren't even given a name until they are about a week old and part of that is because many babies don't survive," Owen says.

Culturally, there is a long way to go. Mothers who have given birth breastfeed on the floor because of the lack of beds.

"It's been so overwhelmingly crowded there and so many babies that have died, that the team has to step over dead babies in order to resuscitate other babies," Owen explains. "It's tiring, but it is where I should be. There is no doubt about it. Each time I come there are emotional difficulties, but I know it is what I'm supposed to be doing."

So far, Dr. Owen's organization has sent 235 medical volunteers from 53 institutions from around the world to places like Ghana to help birthing moms and their babies. On Monday, we will go deep inside a Ghana hospital and see how Dr. Owen's organization is saving lives... one woman at a time.


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