Thérèsa L. Coetzer, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology, University of the Witwatersrand/NHLS, Johannesburg, South Africa, Vice Chair, International Members Committee
As ASH expands its global presence, the Society’s members find greater opportunities to contribute to the hematology community. Through a partnership with Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving global health through education, ASH members can share their hematology expertise by teaching clinicians and laboratory scientists in Uganda, Peru, and Cambodia. ASH member HVO volunteers provide education through day-to-day training, making a sustainable difference at the hospitals where they serve.
A typical day for Dr. Troy Lund while in Kampala, Uganda, is teaching pediatric residents and caring for children at the Mulago Hospital, which is part of the HVO program. Dr. Lund, an ASH member and a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, has been traveling to Uganda for years, long before ASH and HVO had a program; he’s been seven times. However, the day of the bombings was certainly unique. Two explosions struck two establishments in Uganda’s capital on Sunday, July 11, in an apparent terrorist attack targeting crowds that gathered to watch the final World Cup soccer match. Dr. Lund himself was nearby watching the game. At half-time, he went to check on the children in the hospital and received a text message about the attack. He waited in the pediatric acute care unit thinking there would be children coming in, but there was not much activity. A resident then grabbed him, and they trucked down the hill to the main hospital’s intake ward.
“It was like a scene from a movie – wall-to-wall people, at least 100 people down there with head injuries and various traumatic wounds from the explosions,” Dr. Lund recounted. He spent the rest of the night treating head injuries, stopping bleeding, and closing wounds. He focused on stabilizing patients until 7:00 the next morning.
Dr. Lund explained, “This was a unique experience, and I had to revert back to my original training in med school.” They lost seven individuals that night. More than 60 people died as a result of the blasts.
After the bombings occurred in Kampala, Dr. Lund still had another week left before heading back to the states. He said that no one left early from the group he had taken over there; everyone continued on with their work. His stays typically range from two weeks to two months.
Dr. Lund said he enjoys his work in pediatric hematology and working with the faculty at Mulago Hospital, and he looks forward to returning. His next visit is tentatively planned for this September.
While Dr. Lund spends time in Uganda, Dr. Lynn Bemiller recently spent time volunteering in Peru. “This was an outstanding experience for me, both professionally and culturally,” said Dr. Bemiller. While in Peru, Dr. Bemiller traveled to hospitals in two cities. In Lima, Rebagliati Hospital serves as the main referral hospital in the country. Dr. Bemiller lectured staff and trainees on the diagnosis and management of thrombophilia and thrombosis. She also gave a talk on blood component therapy at a symposium presented by the hospital’s hemophilia department.
“I spent time reviewing the hospital’s capabilities and procedures for coagulation and coagulopathy testing. Based on its current practices, I worked with the director of the hematology laboratory to design a standard format for thrombophilia testing. This could be expanded into a standardized order set for testing and inpatient anticoagulation,” Dr. Bemiller explained.
In Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hospital Escobedo serves as the teaching site for two medical schools in the region. Dr. Bemiller participated in bedside teaching by discussing inpatient cases with residents and staff. She presented daily lectures on thrombosis, thrombophilia, transfusion medicine, and hematologic complications of pregnancy and also participated in a case-management conference on thrombocytopenia.
The volunteer experience extends to more subtle interactions than just clinical care, as Dr. Bemiller described: “For me, the most gratifying part of the experience was the recognition that medicine is a universal language, jokes and all, and that all of us in medicine have much more in common than we may think. Compassion is, likewise, independent of culture and language. We had two seriously ill patients that I will not forget. One was a young girl dying incredibly bravely of relapsed leukemia, the other, an older Native American man who spoke a language neither my hosts nor I could speak. We conveyed understanding by touch and eye contact, which was enough.”
Doctors and laboratory scientists interested in volunteering through HVO must be members of ASH and become members of HVO. There is no restriction on nationality to apply; HVO accepts hematology volunteers from around the world for both adult and pediatric hematology. Some program sites offer opportunities for fellows. The first step in applying is to submit the Volunteer Profile Form, which is available on the HVO website at www. hvousa.org. An HVO volunteer coordinator will contact the applicant to discuss expectations and identify an appropriate country site. The applicant will then work closely with the site’s program director, an ASH member who has been to the site and works closely with the staff to meet the site’s educational needs. To learn more about volunteering, visit the ASH website at www.hematology.org/hvo, or visit the HVO booth in the exhibit hall at the upcoming annual meeting in Orlando this December.
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