BRATTLEBORO >> This Mardi Gras on Saturday, Feb. 6, the band Bayou X led by Pete Simoneaux will perform at 118 Elliot (The Laundromat), to help raise money for an upcoming medical service trip to Nicaragua to help babies breathe.
For the fourth time, a group of four local obstetric nurses — Debra Kitzmiller,Leah Nussbaum, Aimee Creelman and Kristin Anderson — will fly to Nicaragua as Maternal and Neonatal Outreach Services (MANOS) to provide instruction and guidance to mothers and birth attendants in Nicaragua.
"I think it's about the bit of knowledge and being able to apply life saving skills," said Anderson. "The ability to do simple stuff in that first minute of life that can save a baby's life has an impact on the baby, mother and community and that is pretty immeasurable."
This year MANOS will partner with the Ministry of Health and co-facilitate day training with doctors from a medical school. They will teach 130 to 160 health care providers about life-saving procedures for what they call that golden minute. The first minute of life that is so critical for the newborn can be addressed through simple steps by first paying attention to the baby first and by supplying a reusable 'bag and mask' as a way to jump start a baby's breathing if needed. MANOS provides neonatal resuscitation and essential newborn care developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics for low-resource environments. Essential programs to their teaching are Helping Babies Breathe and Essential Care for Every Baby, which empower healthcare workers on the ground to provide the very best care for their most vulnerable patients.
"What is most affecting to me is the sense that not only is a baby's life being saved, but a healthcare worker is being empowered, an everyday hero who can save the lives of those in her community," said Leah Nussbaum. "It is amazingly gratifying to think that we are, in some small way, a part of that process."
Aside from the training, they will also donate materials such as 20 resuscitator dolls and 30-50 bag ventilation valve masks and suction devices. Anderson notes that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti and that it's hard to express the lack of resources at the Nicaraguan hospital. However she mentions that at that hospital there are approximately 4,000 births per year and there is one ambu bag available, whereas Brattleboro Memorial Hospital has one available for every baby. An ambu bag is a manual resuscitator or "self-inflating bag," that is commonly used to provide positive pressure ventilation to patients who are not breathing or not breathing adequately. The materials that will be provided to the hospital in April are funded through corporate funds and Deans Organic Coffee, which will match the first $2000 that is raised. According to Deans Organic Coffee's website, their mission statement is, "to use high quality specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout the coffee lands of Asia, Africa and the Americas. We do this through activism, ecological responsibility and innovative direct development programs with our cooperative partners."
All of theirs teachings for this upcoming trip will be taught in Spanish. They will also have a translator travel with them, which Anderson notes is more helpful on a cultural level because it assures that a message is well understood. For 10 days, the nurses of MANOS will take time off work unpaid and bunk up in a hostel nearby the hospital. They will also spend a day in coffee country — Matagalpa to experience another aspect of the rich culture. Despite some of the wonderful connections that are made between the locals and members of MANOS, Nussbaum, notes that some aspects of the trip are difficult.
"On a personal note, the work in Nicaragua is not always easy. We've seen infants receive phototherapy for high bilirubin (jaundice) without the eye covers to protect them from blindness; sick preemies being unnecessarily exposed to cold stress that makes them more fragile; women in labor delivering under conditions that seem inhumane compared to what we provide at the BMH Birthing Center where I work" said Nussbaum.
Their experiences in Nicuragua have not only helped locals learn and apply life saving skills, but Nussbaum says she has been humbled and moved by the locals dedication.
"While it is difficult to observe practices that are unintentionally harmful to women and babies, it is also inspiring to see how much compassionate people can do with very few resources. Healthcare workers travel miles into the countryside to check on pregnant women and new mothers and their babies; the Ministry of Health coordinates initiatives to improve breast feeding success and the meaningful involvement of fathers in child rearing; the state and privately funded casas maternas (maternity homes) provide group housing close to the hospital for medically vulnerable women as their due dates draw near," said Nussbaum.
Their operating budget is $11,000 and donations can be received through www.manosoutreach.org Additional fund-raising options include the benefit concert on Saturday, February fifth where ticket prices are $10-20 (by donation) and a raffle will be included at the event. Anderson adds that all medical devices are shipped from China, and that MANOS will need their full amount by February.
"I want to emphasize that small organizations depend on support and generosity of community. There are no admin costs, it all goes directly to do this cause," said Anderson. "We really do thank and welcome support of our community."