Posted on 15 May, 2013

This post is by Russell Lee, Project Leader, Rwanda

Hello Family Friends and Supporters!

It is Day 2 of surgery and things seem to be settling into a routine now, so it is time to put fingers on the keyboard and share with you how things are going from my perspective as the Project Leader.

The challenges started at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport on departure! As part of the set up team (4 from Sydney & 2 from Melbourne) we departed Monday night for Dubai and then onto Kigali. We had quite a bit of loaned equipment that wasn’t able to be sent with the freight a few weeks earlier and had to travel with us as excess baggage.

Despite all the efforts by Janice our amazing travel consultant (yes I am biased since I am married to her!) we were hit with a huge bill, mmmm I had to take a few deep breaths, visualise calm blue ocean and have a rational discussion with the supervisor. Eventually they gave us a 60% discount but it was a cost that we had not counted on. Once on the plane we just put that behind us and onward with the mission.

We arrived in Kigali after around 31hrs of travel (slight delay in Dubai), and settled into the hotel, a hot shower, dinner then a good sleep and we were ready to face the challenges of our jobs as set up team:

Step 1: Having the 3 tonnes of freighted equipment delivered to the Hospital;

Step 2: Getting clearance of said 3 tonnes of equipment cleared by Customs officials as well as the Rwandan Statistics Bureau.

Step 3: Distribute the trunks and cartons (all 152 of them) to their appropriate areas within the hospital (Theatres, ICU, Ward etc)

Step 4: Unpack and store in makeshift shelving, and set up the Theatres and ICU.

At breakfast I asked everyone to be patient as this process would take time, mmmm the team did really well. I was the one that needed to be patient, so I left them to it and found other jobs to do.

It was also good to meet our screening team who had arrived the day before us, and had started to review the patients that who were being put up for surgery, a list of over 40 that we would have to choose 20 to 25 to be operated on in the time that we are here. This is often the most challenging job, and I really respect the people that do it, it is heart breaking to have to tell parents that sadly their child is to sick or that there isn’t a position for them this year, knowing that it maybe too late next year. So to Phil and Beth I salute you, for the amazing job you do.

There was also old and new staff at the hospital to meet; it has been two years since we have been here so there was much excitement from both sides. It didn’t take long to do a tour of the hospital to inspect the facilities and understand what had changed since we were here last and what needed to be done.

Come 4pm in the afternoon and the Step 1 above had finally happened. It was clear the Customs and Bureau of Statistics guys were not going to come so we arranged for a 7.30am start the next morning (Thursday), hoping that with the early start we could start unpacking by mid morning. Maybe that was a bit ambitious – it wasn’t done till lunch but with all hands on deck we had it all unpacked and mostly set up by around 8.30pm.

We had a few more of the team arrive Wednesday afternoon and evening, then by Thursday night we had everyone here, and plans for a meeting with the local and visiting department heads. Our goal is not just to provide a surgical service to the people of Rwanda, but in doing so us this as an opportunity to train and provide skills transfer, so this department head meeting is really important to build relationships and set plans for the week. It was exciting to see the buy-in by the local staff and this is growing daily with each case we do. There is a real commitment to allocating personnel to each area, something that has been lacking in the past. I have the feeling it is truly going to be an exacting trip with so much collaboration.

We had one major challenge we couldn’t find one carton, that had some very important equipment that was required to make our Blood Gas Machine work, despite searching all locations in the hospital numerous times this box just could be found, mmmm what to do, interim plans were put in place to use the local machine while we had some brought from Australia with our last team member. In the meantime we contacted the airlines, in Sydney, Johannesburg and Kigali to see if it was left in some corner, well at 5pm a box arrived and yes it was our Blood Gas Machine Cartridges, there was jubilation all round and the replacements from Sydney were cancelled.

On Friday morning at 9am surgery finally started. Our first day of surgery had us do three cases and today they are all doing pretty well, it’s just exciting to see kids sitting up in bed, after open heart surgery, the tubes and wires come off and them playing with a soft toy (Koala or Kangaroo usually) but better still blowing bubbles along with a very relieved Mum & Dad grinning from ear to ear, our first case from yesterday has really stolen everyone’s heart. The kids are gorgeous now matter where we go in the world, although I might have to search all the teams’ bags when we go home to make sure they don’t have a child stowed away in their luggage!

Well that’s all from me for now, Steve will keep you up to date along with other members of the team, he is doing a great job, I read Shirley’s blog with a smile she is doing an amazing job, but hey she has a great teacher, Jono is a legend.



Tags:  East Africa,