Last night we began our special Hatteberg's People report, From Goddard to Ghana: A Woman's Journey. I told you about Dr. Medge Owen, who grew up in Goddard, but now works on the world stage in third world countries helping birthing mothers and their babies have a chance at life.
Owen formed an organization called Kybele, which sends in neonatal specialists to teach local doctors and midwives how to save lives during the birthing process. In Ghana, 1-in-50 mothers dies at birth compared to 1-in-5,000 in the United States.
Tonight we take you to a hospital in Ghana where Dr. Owen has assembled a team to teach life-saving techniques... and it is working in a country where life is so basic.
"Each time I come, the reception, the relationships, the friendships, just get deeper and deeper," Owen says. "So I feel like I'm part of the fabric of this culture."
In Accra, the capitol of Ghana, Ridge Hospital is a busy urban health center, but it is not like its counterparts in America. Healthcare American style is only a dream here.
"It's tiring, but it is where I should be," Owen explains.
Dr. Owen has started up medical education programs in Turkey, Croatia, the Republic of Georgia and here in Africa.
"When I walk down this labor ward and when I come to this hospital, I consider those patients as 'my' patients, treating a woman as if she is my sister."
Her specialty is anesthesiology. On this day, she and team member Dr. Richard Smiley of Columbia University in New York are helping 'Bridget', a Ghanaian older mother who has had several miscarriages and is hoping for a successful C-section.
"Women know people who have died giving birth," Owen tells me. That means they are afraid to come to the hospital because they are afraid they won't come out."
The Kybele team works with the local Ghanaian surgeons to help Bridget's dream of a successful birth come true.
"You have a baby girl," Owen tells the woman. "They'll bring your baby right here."
Owen then tells me that this baby will be very meaningful to the woman.
While the surgical area almost meets Western standards, much of the rest of the hospital does not. There is no air conditioning despite the intense African heat. There's aren't many places to wash your hands or even flush a toilet. Water is hauled in and placed in tanks.
Food is prepared outside. We were told that's because the kitchen is being renovated. The hospital canteen is also outside as are vendors with fresh fruit.
"We don't do something because it is easy, but because it is worthwhile," Owen says. "And it doesn't matter how difficult it is. If it is worthwhile, then we should strive for that."
Yet with these stark realities, the Ghanaian medical staff makes the most of what they have... and they do make a difference.
"They teach me how to survive," a woman who just gave birth told me.
In the midst of their day, an emergency. A mother's life is in jeopardy.
"She's had a seizure," Owen said.
The Kybele team assists the Ghanaian doctors. It's touch-and-go and the woman's odds aren't good. Nobody expects her to survive the day. Yet, five days later, this woman walked out of the hospital. It is a small success for the Kybele team.
Progress is slow in Ghana, but steady.
"We have to empower the people locally to bring it up to par within themselves," Owen says. "That is the only way we'll have any sustained improvement in health care."
Because of Kybele, computers are being installed for the first time. Nurses and midwives are being trained in life-saving techniques for newborns. New sonogram techniques are being introduced.
But as a woman moans, it is here in the maternity ward where you hear the need.
"From all the patients who we provide pain relief to, they are amazingly grateful," Owen says. "We feel that it is a basic human right to provide a suffering human with some degree of pain relief."
"OK, we're done," Owen tells the woman. "She was pain free for the second half of her labor and delivery and she said this is the best labor experience she's ever had."
It’s a long way to Africa, but the bridge to help humanity is short. Dr. Medge Owen makes that trip one baby and one mother at a time.
"You know, we take this for granted at home," Owen tells me.