Pam Rossano has been a Share Chapter leader in Lavallette, New Jersey, for nearly 30 years. She has also been serving women for 4 decades as a Labor and Delivery nurse. Pam recently joined a team doing medical missions in Makeni, Sierra Leone and was excited to share about her experience.
“After about 30 years of Share meetings, 43 years of Labor and Delivery and teaching childbirth classes at our Community Hospital with approximately 1300 deliveries, I was invited to go to a Medical Mission in Makeni, Sierra Leone,” Pam said.
In 2006, ob/gyn Nina Seigelstein, MD led a team of medical professionals on what they discovered to be the only gynecological mission trip to ever deliver healthcare to women in the Northern Region of Sierra Leone. Over 300 women came from hundreds of miles away to be seen and treated. Sadly, these women had gynecologic conditions that were entirely treatable with the proper medical care.
“We were shocked to discover that death of the infant and/or mother was commonplace and almost expected by all; what was worse was that these deaths or debilitating complications of pregnancy and childbirth could have been prevented with access to proper obstetrical services. We became determined to change this by creating a sustainable women’s healthcare infrastructure in Sierra Leone which could successfully function to save the lives of women and babies,” said Dr. Seigelstein, founder of One World Women’s Health.
Dr. Seigelstein was thrilled to have Pam join them, as her experience with bereavement counseling was invaluable to the staff in Sierra Leone.
OWWH says, “Women in Sierra Leone are 46% more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women in the U.S.”
“I joined a team of two surgeons, one anesthesiologist, one NICU nurse, an operating room tech, and 1 photographer on this trip,” Pam tells us, “we set out to help establish an operating room and assist in any way possible. Jen, the other RN, and myself met with 160 midwife students. In my past experience, I have never spoken in front of more than 30 students at once. But we were well prepared with PowerPoint, video access, and excellent material- thanks to one of our RN educators.”
When asked about the different practices and ritual, Pam remarked, “Some differences were alarming. Babies are wrapped with multiple blankets with the temperature ranging from 90 -100 degrees. When teaching the students neonatal resuscitation, we were corrected and told they call it “Helping Babies Breathe.” The government recommends, or rather mandates, that no chest compressions are allowed. That was startling to us,” she said, “due to the limited medical resources available.”
“We also noted that getting moms to come to the maternity center, rather than deliver in the village, was encouraged but not very successful. We did many GYN repairs, including prolapses of bladders, uteruses, and vaginas. This was probably do to multiple births and childbirth at an early age. We repaired cysts and tumors as well as possible under spinal anesthesia. There have been no gynecological services available for four years since last mission team visited.”
Pam says, “We also talked about when a baby dies, because they have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The staff does not provide much in the way of support.
The mom will make a mark on their baby’s toenail or fingernail, and they believe the next baby they give birth to is the first baby coming back. They can imagine the mark is there, it has just been rubbed off. Another interesting practice, was that the burial was conducted without the mother present.”
In addition to loss rituals and lack of gynecological care, Pam learned about the local custom of female circumcision. She says, “All the women, unless they are Christians, are circumcised at twelve years old. The elders come into the village when she is of age and take her to a site to conduct the circumcision. The girls are given no anesthesia and their legs are bound for two weeks.”
“Some of the more modern women expressed concern for their young daughters but felt they would not be able to get a husband without this procedure. I believe this was a religious practice not related to the tribe” Pam said.
“The staff at Holy Spirit Hospital where the maternity center was established were wonderful and welcoming to our team. I came away from the experience amazed at how differently we treat our families with a loss and passionate to continue providing this care,” Pam concluded.
One World Women’s Health also spearheaded the design, construction, equipping and now staffing of a brand new Maternity Ward at the Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni, which opened in September 2016. “We continue to nurture our relationships and partnerships with the staff of HSH as well as the Midwifery School of Makeni. Our teams of medical professionals have been sharing their vast knowledge and experience with their Sierra Leonean counterparts as we all work together to create lasting and effective change,” said Dr. Seigelstein.
For more information about One World Women’s Health or to pursue supporting this organization, please visit www.oneworldwomenshealth.org.
At Share, we are so grateful for our chapter leaders who provide such amazing care for families going through a loss both locally and internationally. Thank you for all you do!