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by LaTasha Burns
Published on November 30, 2016

It was all a dream…a simple one. Sounds cliché’, but that’s exactly what happened just as we approached Prematurity Awareness Month in Nov 2015. Our Cerner Middle East (CME) office always recognized things like “Diabetes Awareness Month” or “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” both very important causes, but nothing focusing on mothers and babies, at least to my knowledge. The dream led to a conversation with a couple of key people Deirdre Stewart, Danielle Lock and Mike Pomerance and BOOM…it was on!! The goal was obvious: raise awareness, raise money, and make it fun!

In true nursing form, the initial email sent to my CME colleagues on Nov 1st was outlined in Situation Background Assessment Response (SBAR) format: What is prematurity? Why should you care? and What can you do? We kicked it off with a Lunch and Learn session, Infographics posters hung around the office, purple ribbons passed out, etc.…we were in it to win it.After realizing the work effort with our full time jobs, we had to scale back on some of our fundraising efforts.

Danielle, the marketing genius, got really creative with our efforts “Baking for Babies”, “BBQ for Babies”, “50/50 Raffle”, “Silent Auction” and some people just generously donated and offered assistance.

Fast forward to January and we’d raised just under $10,000. Wow! Another key suggestion from our colleague Nadia Dheban led us to Cerner’s Firsthand Foundation, who agreed to match our raised funds. And just like that, our goal of 50,000 AED was transformed to 73,450 AED or $20,000. I couldn’t imagine how supportive and engaged our office would be. It surpassed my expectations since there seems to always be competing priorities. Something about this resonated with people. I’d like to think it was the genius marketing or the art of charisma, but I know better. I believe our passion, purpose and belief were evident and that is what separated this from another “Awareness Month” to a full blow movement.We were onto something. This was something we all could directly or indirectly relate to and personified how Healthcare Matters.

I had an idea of what I thought Kibagabaga Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) could use regarding new equipment, but I really needed the Rwandan clinicians to make that decision. They knew best. In earlier years, I worked at Children’s National Level IV NICU in Washington, D.C. In normal U.S. fashion, I assumed they needed an Isolette at the very least, since their babies are sometimes 2-3 deep in one Isolette (not siblings). I was wrong. Due to limited space, that wasn’t a priority.

After we reached consensus and fully understood what was of highest priority on their “wish list”, the vendor and equipment were selected. The goal was to order equipment from one country to be delivered to another country, clear customs for delivery in Kigali, Rwanda in time for the International Organization for Women & Development’s (IOWD) October mission trip. I will spare you the details but let me just say, it is not for the faint of heart.

Fast forward to almost a year later. In October 2016 I was blessed with the opportunity to see this dream into full fruition by visiting Kibagabaga Hospital’s NICU, tugging along one hundred pounds of baby blankets and clothes thanks to generous donations. I didn’t think it was possible as I was transitioning back to the U.S. the same time, but destiny made a way.On the first day’s bus ride over to the hospital, I recall telling Danielle, I didn’t get a chance to buy Nurse Mates for the NICU and only had tennis shoes or as some say “sneakers”. She chuckled and said “Don’t you worry about that, you’ll see.” What do you mean I will see??? Now I was a little anxious.

Upon arrival I was greeted by the nurses. They were extremely pleasant and welcoming as if I knew them in a previous life. I was anxious to get into the NICU so I hung my lab coat up and proceeded to wash my hands at the nearby sink. I was stopped at the entrance and asked to take off my shoes in exchange for some slippers. Now, I’m the person who does not walk around my home without at least a house-slipper, so the idea of having to walk without shoes, especially in a hospital setting, even if for a nanosecond, took me off guard. I admit I was taken aback, but I quickly obliged. I was now wearing slippers worn by both moms and clinicians as a way to improve infection control while not as much attention to overall handwashing.

I strived to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude as they graciously welcomed me.Walking into the NICU felt warm (figuratively and literally). There was no air movement even with a small opened window, and a couple of overhead warmers were on. At peak times, there were close to 30 babies, mommies, nurses, and physicians for a total of 50 people in a small space.I immediately felt the sweat on my back as I attempted to maintain some of the smallest babies’ temperature while adjusting one baby’s cannula without interfering with his roommate. A task proven to be quite tricky without opening its main door and using only the elbow ports. Still, I was focused on why I travelled 7,217miles across the Atlantic, and that was getting that much needed equipment set-up and working with the nurses and helping them in any way I could.

I quickly realized how they needed very basic things like stethoscopes. There was one shared between all babies since the nurses don’t own any. Oxygen concentrators and nasal cannulas (so they don’t have to wash and reuse them) and pulse oximeters and bedside monitors for the sickest babies. In my experience, these are basic requirements for a NICU baby. Each has his/her own oxygen & suction setup, cardiopulmonary monitor, disposable stethoscope, etc.. Here they had to make hourly decisions based on acuity to determine who warrants what equipment.

One nurse placed a baby on Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and I humbly inquired “How do you assess for Respiratory Distress without a cardiopulmonary monitor, breath sounds auscultation, chest X-Ray, blood gases, etc...?” Humbled. I’d never experienced anything like that before but was extremely impressed with what the nurses and physicians are doing to care for those precious babies with what limited resources they have.

I can only hope I made a good impression and didn’t appear judgmental, but instead open and collaborative. I think it worked because by the end of my visit, the rumor was I was a Neonatologist and not Nurse. I apologize to all Neonatologists. This experience made me question if we overcomplicate and overdo things in the U.S. Healthcare System, but I realized we differ in defining how we care for the populations we serve. It is those cultures, beliefs, and resources that determine what is truly Global Care.