A group of doctors from the St. Louis-area is doing incredible work in Africa.
Led by a husband and wife team, they recently opened an intensive care unit at a rural hospital in Yendi, Ghana. Part of the reason why is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring.
Building 1441 is the intensive care unit named in honor of the 14 years and 41 days a boy named Cameron was alive. Tragically, he died in a four-wheeler crash in October 2016.
"He was the most bright, loving, his smile could make anyone happy. A dreamer. An amazing young kid," said Dr. Patricia Limpert about her nephew. "After his death, our whole thought was 'How can we bring his light to the world?'"
Cameron's aunt and uncle, both passionate about their volunteer work in Ghana, funded the building with Cameron in mind.
Dr. Patricia Limpert is a breast surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital. Her husband, Dr. Jonathan Limpert, is a general surgeon at Mercy Hospital in Washington, Missouri. A few years ago, they started taking medical mission trips with a group from Washington to Yendi. There, they found a single doctor, serving half a million people and a hospital with patients lying on mats on the floor during the busy malaria season, but they also saw something much deeper.
"I think more than anything, it's the people. Never in my life have I seen someone who has absolutely nothing, in our eyes they have nothing, but they are the happiest, most generous, most affectionate, most grateful people," said Dr. Patricia Limpert.
During their week-long trips, their team would do hundreds of operations and see thousands of patients, but they wanted to do more.
"What we've decided as a mission group is we want to do things that are sustainable. That, when we leave there after 10 days will continue until we come back," said Dr. Jonathan Limpert.
They talked with local leaders in Yendi to try and learn what the community really needed.
"This hospital sits very far from any referral center. So when they have someone who is critically ill, they typically die in transport. So the question was, 'What can we do to stabilize those patients?'" said Dr. Jonathan Limpert.
That's when they decided to fund the construction of the ICU.
"I think that's a new angle the world of missions has found to be key - to empower the local people. Give them just the resources they need. Keep the jobs there, keep the pride there. They built that. They can look at that and say they built that," said Dr. Jonathan Limpert.
Then, St. Louis-area healthcare companies and families helped outfit the ICU with real hospital beds, oxygen inlined into the wall, an EKG machine, ventilator, and much more.
They also set up a telemedicine platform with support from Mercy Virtual so doctors here in St. Louis and Washington can communicate with nurses and the doctor in Yendi when they need help using the new equipment.
"It's really neat to see how engaged, how empowered each person who comes through that building is. They have this hunger for knowledge, hunger for growth," said Dr. Patricia Limpert.
The ICU officially opened in January and it's already proven its worth. The most recent example is a mother of newborn twins, which were delivered by C-section. The mother developed post-partum hemorrhage. Because she was so ill, she needed the ventilator to breathe for her after a second operation. A local physician, Dr. Ayuba, contacted Dr. Jonathan Limpert from the operating room after the woman's second operation, desperate to get help with the ventilator. Dr. Limpert connected him to a team in the U.S., via the new telemedicine equipment, to get the ventilator on the correct settings for the patient. The team kept tabs on her by making several video calls back and forth until she was able to breathe on her own. The mother and her twins are now home and doing well.
As a mother to two children of her own, Dr. Patricia Limpert hopes stories like these teach her daughters what is really important.
"I hope more than anything they see yes, it's not just the people who look like us, it's not just the people who talk like us, it's not just the people who walk like us, it's anyone in the world deserves love just as much as anyone else," said Dr. Patricia Limpert.