UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

A Birth in the Dark

Maternal and Child Health outreach programs like this one held in Bo, Sierra Leone in December are helping to create awareness of safe and healthy deliveries. While Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown is seeing a great reduction in infant mortality: Out of approximately 800 births in 2013, not a single mother or infant died.Maternal and Child Health outreach programs like this one held in Bo, Sierra Leone in December are helping to create awareness of safe and healthy deliveries. While Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown is seeing a great reduction in infant mortality: Out of approximately 800 births in 2013, not a single mother or infant died.

By Julia Kayser

January 9, 2014—As the story of Advent still rings in our ears, we know that God is present in the miracle of birth. But for mothers and infants in many parts of the world, delivery can be deadly. At Kissy United Methodist Hospital in eastern Freetown, Sierra Leone, a midwife named Bio has become legendary for her ability to be the hands of God ushering new life into the world.

Dr. Martin Thormodsen volunteered in the maternity ward alongside Bio on a memorable night. “One mother was bleeding profusely after delivery,” he writes. As the medical team worked to stop the bleeding, Bio realized that the baby had stopped breathing and was turning blue.

When suction failed to clear the infant’s airways, Bio started resuscitation. “She shook [the baby] forcefully and pressed [the child’s] thorax in a quick rhythm,” Dr. Thormodsen remembers. “After a short time, the baby gasped, gave a cry, and started to breathe regularly. They wrapped the baby and gave her to me so they could concentrate on the woman.”

At that moment, the power went out. “I was sitting in the deepest darkness with a newborn baby in my arms who had just undergone resuscitation with heart compression,” writes Dr. Thormodsen. “Was she still breathing? How could I be sure? Then the solution became obvious. I placed two fingers on the baby’s breast and could easily feel the thorax moving while the baby was breathing… I sat for a little while with this lovely newborn girl in my arms and thanked the Lord for having given life to her and saving her.”

By the time the lights came back on, Bio and her team had stopped the bleeding, and the baby was returned to her mother. It’s likely that neither of them would have survived without an expert midwife. Everyone in the room sang praises to God—and to Bio!

Bio has worked at the Kissy United Methodist Hospital for more than 20 years and has delivered more than 6,000 babies. She lives in an apartment at the hospital just fifty yards from the delivery room so that she can be on call 24/7. She and Dr. Dennis Marke, chief medical officer of the hospital, built up Kissy’s maternity and newborn healthcare program from the ground up. “They are a super-team,” says Dr. Thormodsen.

Their work extends beyond labor and delivery. Every Wednesday, between 150 and 200 pregnant women gather in the waiting area outside Bio’s ward for prayer, song, dance, and prenatal exercises. Then, each one is examined. Women with high-risk pregnancies get extra support. After delivery, Bio’s patients bring their babies back to her for regular checkups until age two or three.  

This strategy has had remarkable success. Out of approximately 800 births at Kissy in 2013, not a single mother or infant died. That’s a huge improvement over the national maternal and infant mortality rates of two and six percent, respectively.

A new building to house Kissy’s maternity ward was just dedicated in October 2013. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)—with major donations from organized partners within the Indiana Annual Conference and the Brother’s Brother Foundation—partnered with USAID’s American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program to complete the $750,000 construction project.

“This facility will offer the highest level of readiness and the highest level of maternal care anywhere in Sierra Leone,” Dr. Marke told guests at the dedication.

Your gift to UMCOR Global Health, Advance #3021770, helps to advance maternal and child health programs, such as that at Kissy Hospital, and to confront other major health issues in Sierra Leone and around the world. UMCOR Global Health programs work internationally with more than 300 United Methodist hospitals and clinics.

Through UMCOR’s Material Resource Ministry, Advance #901440, you can also help ensure that relief supplies, including layette kits and health kits, reach people in need. You can provide these lifesaving supplies by putting together a kit or making a donation to purchase kit contents.

*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org

Your gift to UMCOR Global Health, Advance #3021770, helps to advance maternal and child health programs, such as that at Kissy Hospital. 
(Left to right) Catherine Norman (Matron II) and Kumba Konomanyi (Matron) at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: Piper Crisovan(Left to right) Catherine Norman (Matron II) and Kumba Konomanyi (Matron) at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: Piper Crisovan.