FOR THE PEOPLE
Vital Surgery, Precious Teaching — To Go
Ftook vacation and unpaid leave to
travel to Kampala, Uganda, for two
or 14 UNC doctors and nurses who
weeks in October, the trip was a chance to
make a big difference in a country where
few children with heart conditions get the
medical care they need — and a chance to
remember a lost friend.
Ugandan children with heart conditions
had nowhere to go for medical care. The
medical staff at Mulago hospital, the largest
state hospital in the country, did not have
the training or medical equipment to perform surgeries that are common in the
U.S. The Ugandan children either went
without surgery or traveled to other countries, including India or South Africa, if
their families could afford it.
And Dr. Keith Kocis, a pediatrician in
UNC’s pediatric intensive care unit, didn’t
know anything about global health. But
when he learned from the family of Amal
Murarka, a UNC doctor who died in a car
accident in 2003, that Murarka had done
research in Uganda, he started thinking
about that country.
“As we tried to make some sense of
that situation, it had a big impact on myself
and folks in the ICU,” Kocis said. “We
wanted to keep his memory alive.”
Kocis and others formed the Dr. Amal
Murarka International Pediatric Health
Foundation. Through donations from
Murarka’s father, other friends, family
members and co-workers, and with spon-sorship from corporate partners, Kocis was
able to take a team to Uganda for the first
time in the spring of 2005.
After the first trip, he knew there was a
gap volunteers from Chapel Hill could fill.
He partnered with Dr. Craig Sable, a
pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National
Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who
had done medical work in the Mulago hospital. The doctors worked together to establish a pediatric intensive care unit and surgical unit. They recruited specialized medical
personnel, including a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, surgeon assistants, an anesthesiologist, perfusionists, intensivists, physical
therapists and pediatric nurse practitioners.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM MEMBERS OF UNC PROJECT UGANDA
The medical team that traveled with
Kocis in October took most of a hospital
with them. Kocis worked with Samaritan’s
Purse, a nondenominational evangelical
Christian organization based in Boone that
provides international relief and medical
aid, to arrange the shipment of a cargo airplane’s worth of equipment and supplies.
The medical team checked another 36 bags
worth of supplies for the flight.
Clockwise from top: Dr. Michael
Mill performs surgery wearing Tar
Heel regalia; Esther, a Sudanese
refugee, shows her gratitude for
her operation; Karla Brown ’ 87
coaches Ugandan nurses; and Dr.
Keith Kocis works the telecommunications end of the mission.