Category Archives: Teach To Transform

The Gift

Dr. Robert “Bob” Couch
GLMS President

I am writing this from northeastern Peru, sitting on the bank of the Huallaga River. This river will become the Marañón River, flowing into the mighty Amazon as it courses east through Brazil into the Atlantic. I’m in the jungle, and the temperature reached 38 C (about 100 F) today, but because of the humidity, it feels much hotter. The air is heavy, and as a non-acclimated Gringo, I can feel the weight of each breath.

I’ve come back to Peru with Teach to Transform, an organization founded several years ago by a colleague in my Emergency Medicine practice, Dr. Tom McKechnie. He created this faith-based organization to empower indigenous people to provide basic medical care in their own communities. Instead of a “go and do” philosophy, he’s adopted a “go and teach” approach.

Our first trip to Peru last year emphasized basic wound care, health and hygiene, and taught the Helping Babies Breathe program of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a neonatal resuscitation curriculum for resource-limited circumstances. The impact this can have on reducing infant mortality is tremendous, saving upwards of 80 percent of newborns that are not breathing at birth.

This year, we are teaching splinting, suturing, and IM injections. Our students come from near and far, some traveling days by boat on the rivers to receive our training. While the need for these skills is not as great in urban areas, many in the rural regions do not have access to any kind of medical care. Empowering these residents with skills to aid their community can have a huge impact on ensuring that patients are getting the appropriate initial care and referral to a clinic when necessary.

We are working with several local physicians who staff a clinic in the city of Chazuta, our home base while in Peru. These physicians are assigned to the clinic for a year, providing a required year of rural service, between their completion of medical school and the start of their specialty training. They practice in austere conditions, doing the best with what they have. We were able to provide their clinic with basic equipment and supplies supplementing what they had on hand.

As a physician in what I believe is the greatest country in the world, I find myself taking many of our accouterments for granted. We practice in comfortable offices and hospitals, and go home to sleep in comfortable beds. Most of us don’t ford rivers, climb mountains, or risk our lives to get to our patients. We are blessed beyond words, and I think we have a responsibility to share the gif of healing that has been given to us.

There are many opportunities to share our gifts. Here in Louisville, two great examples are clinics run by volunteers and medical students at the Men’s and Women’s campuses of The Healing Place. Dr. Erica Sutton has spearheaded the efforts to bring Surgery on Sunday to Louisville, providing much-needed surgical care to patients who could not otherwise afford to have procedures performed.

Our own GLMS Foundation provides a number of openings for service, including local, state, and international missions. Dr. Denise Puthuff, chair of the Foundation Medical Missions Committee, will once again be organizing their annual Nicaragua trip in January. The Foundation keeps a list of medical mission opportunities on its website.

Some physicians say, “There’s nothing I could do on a mission trip,” or “I could never take the time to do something like that.” I thought the same for a long time, being envious of the surgeons who go and have such an immediate impact on patients. I’ve learned that anyone can have a great influence on the success of an undertaking. Our length of service can be from a few hours to a few days, weeks, or even months. We can all teach, passing on our knowledge, and perhaps igniting a passion for others to do the same. We may not even know what effect our activity may have. Our biggest impact may be through a simple act of human kindness, such as giving another person a drink of clean water.

Serving others outside our usual comfort zone has many other benefits, such as giving us an opportunity for introspection. Am I impatient or rigid? How well can I adapt in unfamiliar territory? How can I get back on the path to self-actualization?

Ultimately, I go not only because of the effect I can have on others, though this is a noble calling; I go because of the effect others have on me. Going and teaching has changed my worldview, and helps restore my faith in our ability to help each other.

These trips are not without their own peril. I will have to transition from teaching basic medical skills to someone who has traveled days through the jungle by boat, to returning to the states and seeing yet another irate patient, Google printout in hand, telling me what they’ve decided is wrong with them, all the while berating me because they had to wait an hour for me to see their “emergency” that has been present for six months. I just have to take a deep breath and smile, knowing that somewhere else, a person I’ve shared my gif with is helping another.

Docendo discimus – By teaching, we learn.

Robert Couch, MD, MBA, is the emergency department medical director at Norton Audubon Hospital and the founder of Southern Emergency Medical Specialists, PSC.

Reprinted by the permission of Greater Louisville Medical Society.

Kenya: The story of Pastor Thomas

Pastor Thomas with his backpack
Pastor Thomas with his backpack

Pastor Thomas, a resident of Homabay, is married and has a daughter. Apart from being a pastor, he is also a businessman, and has ventured into farming. He got to hear about the first Teach to Transform training in Homabay through Pastor Peter, a fellow pastor. He was keen to attend since he has always had a passion for health and medicine.

Health Screening
After completing the training, Pastor Thomas decided to first clear it with the Medical Officer of Health, so that he could be authorized to work as a health screener. (The MOH oversees the hospitals in the region.) Pastor Thomas was finally cleared after two months and was even required to screen some of the health workers in the hospital, before he could be certified. He reports that the MOH was very impressed with the job he did.

Having been cleared, Pastor Thomas was able to organize a screening camp with his colleague, Pastor Peter. They were able to publicize it during their door to door evangelism. The camp was successful and they managed to screen 40 people. They even referred to the district hospital, some who had high blood pressure.

Afterwards, he was able to do a second camp, which he reports, was through God’s divine plan. He was attending a funeral for one of his relatives who had died of a heart condition. It is during the funeral that one of the attendees mentioned that it was very important for them to regularly have their blood pressure checked. Knowing that Pastor Thomas had undergone a health training, he asked if he could screen them immediately. Pastor Thomas had to rush home, get the backpack and come back. Together with his assistant, they got to work and managed to screen about 50 people. They even referred one woman to the hospital and she was put under antihypertensives for 10 days. The woman’s blood pressure has since returned to normal.

Still eager to use the knowledge he had gained regarding Helping Babies Breathe, Pastor Thomas’ lucky day came when he was called one night to help a mother deliver. He quickly organized an emergency plan and responded to the call. However, he was unable to help in the delivery since the woman was in labor for more than two hours and Pastor Thomas feared any complications, since it was the woman’s first delivery. His emergency plan came in handy since he immediately referred the woman to hospital. The baby was delivered safely in hospital and Pastor Thomas even received a token of appreciation from the family.

Pastor Thomas was quick to state that his backpack has come in handy during his door to door evangelism. This is because it has enabled him to minister to both the spiritual and medical needs of people.

Moreover, as a health screener, those he ministers to open up more easily and he is also able to win their trust. This way, Pastor Thomas has been able to spread the love of Jesus to more people, and nothing gives him greater joy. His goal this year is to use his backpack and the knowledge he has gained on health to bring more souls to Christ. For him, the journey has only began, and he is more than eager to go the extra mile.

-Submitted by Augustine Muemba

Kenya: The story of Esther and Phoebe

Phoebe and Rosebella
Phoebe and Rosebella

Esther and Phoebe were trained by TTT in August 2014. Soon after this, they put their expertise into practice. Walking from village to village, they have dedicated their time to sharing the gospel and managing minor cases of burns, managing dehydration using oral rehydration salts, wound cleaning and taking of vital signs. The zeal to do this amidst all odds is they say, their love for Christ.

The journey
In November, they were confronted by a situation that very few would dare face given the nature of prevailing circumstances. Esther had hardly rested after her day in the market where she sells tomatoes when she received a distress call from an expectant mother. She was in labor and needed Esther’s assistance. She immediately called Phoebe who gladly agreed to be her assistant. It was already dark and Esther requested her sons to accompany her to the home of the expectant mother. This was a long journey. It took them one hour to arrive since they walked to the place. About two hours later Phoebe arrived aboard a motorbike. She comes from a different locality far from Esther’s home and it is so far that she couldn’t have managed to walk in the dark. Phoebe parted with 150 Kenya shillings ($1.64) as transport charges. Phoebe said she had to make it whatever the cost as nothing is as painful as losing a child. (She has lost four children in their early years of life.)

Her first home delivery
As they have made it mandatory to pray with all the patients they attend to, they did so and prepared the room to be ready to conduct delivery. This was the expectant mother’s sixth pregnancy. She had lost one child to HIV/AIDS. Her husband had also died due to the same. In the previous births, she had given birth in a hospital facility. In her last hospital delivery, she was found to have HIV. All this was unraveled as these two volunteers were taking a brief history before conducting delivery. “Nothing could stop us since we had been taught how to take care of ourselves when conducting deliveries. So we put our gloves on,” Esther said.


Baby Esther Phoebe
At a few minutes past 11 pm, a baby who later was named Esther Phoebe was born (named after the TTT volunteers who conducted the delivery). This was a great joy to the mother who only had boys and had never given birth to a baby girl. They took time to counsel the mother on the feeding options to adopt and convinced her to enroll for ARVs. The baby was also put on medication. Since then they have been visiting the family, praying for them and ensuring that they take ARVs as prescribed. Baby Esther Phoebe is now 3 weeks old.

Note: Wife inheritance happens when a bereaved widow is taken up as a wife by the relative to her late husband. They may meet their physical needs but mostly it is just conjugal- to continue having children. Also in farming, a sexual act has to be done before planting on the farm every season, so those without husbands cannot plant; they have to take on a man. What’s more, the siblings or children cannot plant unless the mother (if she is alive) or their big brother plants first. These are some of the unbiblical practices that we see as affecting the land productivity, survival of children at birth and big number of miscarriages, and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Our trainees were grasping this and will continue to bring education to these superstitious practices and teach Biblical principles.

-Submitted by Augustine Muemba

Celebrate with us

Greetings in name of our Lord! Teach to Transform invites you to join us as we share how God is at work in our ministry. This year, Teach to Transform has been blessed to train our brothers and sisters in Liberia, Ecuador, Rwanda and Kenya. Next month, we will be heading to Myanmar and Peru. We welcome you to join our celebration and praise of all that God has accomplished and what He is setting before us to do.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Couch, president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, will be our guest speaker. Our conference is Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 6:30 p.m., and is located at Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenbaker Parkway, Louisville, Ky., in ATCR 209.