A Mission Trip to Kenya Ignited a Purpose

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Kericho is a town located in a rural area of west Kenya, a country in East Africa. It’s home to wildlife like elephants and lions and is known worldwide for its tea production. But Tom Carrigan, MD, St. Elizabeth Physicians electrophysiologist and registered nurses Jill Neltner and Nicole Finerty will remember Kericho for the kindness of the local people.

Dr. Carrigan, Jill and Nicole visited the small town as a part of the project My Heart Your Heart. Dr. Carrigan first became associated with My Heart Your Heart when he was completing his fellowship at the University of Michigan and he invited Jill and Nicole to take part in this mission trip.

Dr. Carrigan says, “When I began planning the trip with Dr. Mark Bowers, who I trained with at the University of Michigan, I knew I wanted to bring top-notch, highly-trained nurses with us. I was happy that Jill and Nicole agreed to help.”

The people in low-income countries, like Kenya, don’t have access to lifesaving pacemakers and defibrillators. Each year, one to two million people worldwide die due to a lack of access to these devices. The goal of the trip was to train local physicians and nurses how to implant pacemakers and give them the skills necessary to do the procedure on their own.

Nicole describes the patients in Kericho, “Many of them were in complete heart block. They were living with a heart rate of around 30. Getting a pacemaker wasn’t an elective procedure—they would die without it.”

A pacemaker will provide the electrical stimulation a heart needs to beat at a normal rate if it starts to slow. By giving a pacemaker to someone in heart block, his or her symptoms are almost immediately improved.

Jill explains, “The nurses were so eager to learn, but we could also see how grateful the patients were. What is ordinary for us is the extraordinary for them. It was a powerful and fulfilling experience. In our giving, we receive many graces in return.”

Jill and Nicole have a combined 61 years of experience in nursing. Dr. Carrigan said, “Because you are dealing with a language barrier, as well as a very difficult environment, it is important to have nurses that can improvise and teach in changing conditions.”

Both nurses recall the conditions for potential infections were the most shocking part of the trip. The hospital in Kericho does not have adequate resources, equipment or supplies including medication, patient restraints, surgical drapes, sponges and even soap.

Nicole remembers the trip, “Kericho is eye-opening. We knew it was a third world county, but when you think about the conditions we have in our hospital, what we witnessed was very different. One of the biggest things I gained was perspective.”

The mission trip was considered a success. They implanted 15 pacemakers and the last two procedures were done solely by the local team. They can now provide this service without the help of Dr. Carrigan, Jill and Nicole.

The logistics of the trip changed many times over the course of the year it took to get all the proper clearances and equipment. Jill explains, “”There were so many moving parts and finally the stars were in alignment. The Kenyan government was successful in getting the logistics worked out and St. Elizabeth supported us by giving us the time off on short notice.”

Nicole added, “That is why we love working here—they are always supporting us. It’s just part of the St. Elizabeth’s culture.”