Renown Labor and Delivery nurse Krystie Macdonald gave herself the graduation gift of traveling to Kenya with volunteer nurses and doctors to care for families living in extreme poverty. What she didn’t expect was how much she would gain in return.
As a registered labor and delivery nurse at Renown Regional Medical Center, Krystie Macdonald witnesses life-changing moments every day.
And after returning from a 12-day trip where she volunteered at a clinic in Kenya, she was on the receiving end of some pretty life-altering events herself.
“I can’t tell you how it’s changed my life,” says Macdonald, BSN, RN, supervisor of Nursing, Labor and Delivery. “You go to a place where you see people that have nothing, and it’s interesting to see how much you can help with how little you have. The whole experience was very humbling — you see a different world.”
Macdonald became interested in volunteering for KenyaRelief.org during nursing school about four years ago. She saw a booth at a conference, and after graduation, decided to finally pursue the experience.
No One Turned Away
She departed after graduation as part of an ear, nose and throat and general surgery team. Each team of volunteers consists of anesthesiologists, nurses, physicians and surgeons. In just three days, Macdonald and her team screened 145 patients and performed 45 surgeries, including thyroid and goiter removal, tumor removals, hernia repairs, adenoid removal and some sinus masses.
Macdonald explained that would-be patients in Kenya are turned away if they can’t pay for treatment, even if their condition is life-threatening. One example she witnessed: The hospital turned away a mother who brought her 2-year-old daughter to be treated for severe burns after falling into a fire.
“She didn’t have money and she was turned away to go home which was unbelievable because that would never happen here,” Macdonald says.
A volunteer team of plastic surgeons raised money for the girl’s care. “It was very heartwarming to see that we were helping.”
People would often travel up for eight hours to be seen at the clinic, which did charge a small fee. Physician visits are $2, while surgeries, depending on the type, maxed out at $60-$70 for an extensive procedure. The average wage in Kenya is 6,498 shillings per month, or $76 American dollars.
“A lot of patients had been saving up money for their surgeries and they are all so grateful,” she says. “Everyone — patients and the families — they were so grateful and happy they were actually getting treatment, because a lot of them have lived like this for years.”
Like any major hospital in the United States, at Renown Health anything and everything a nurse could need to care for a patient is just a few steps away. But at the clinic,Macdonald learned how to care for her patients with what she had.
“As soon as they were stable and could get up, we would move them outside onto a lawn chair under a tent because we ran out of room,” Macdonald explains. “We were tying IVs to trees and off tents and running out there to check their drains.”
Macdonald and her team performed two emergency tracheostomies because patients vocal cords were paralyzed after the surgery. When one of the patients was stable enough to go home, Macdonald taught the patient how to care for a fresh tracheostomy at home — in a hut with no power.
“We had to explain little things, like to sterilize water to clean the tracheostomy when there’s no running water,” Macdonald says. “We had to remember that they don’t have the supplies we have in the U.S., so we were teaching them how to survive with what they had.”
She also helped the mother of a 4-day-old baby who was having difficulty nursing due to a cleft lip.
“The mom was having trouble with trying to feed the infant because she couldn’t latch,” Macdonald says. “They don’t have bottles and they don’t have the special equipment we have, so it was fun and amazing to see what I could come up with and how I could teach to care for her infant until she can get surgery.”
Getting to Unwind
After several intense days of working long hours at the clinic, volunteers are treated to a two-day safari giving them a chance to see the local culture, spend time with the other volunteers and decompress from the work.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I cried,” Macdonald says. “You see the people in need, and their family members are so happy and tell you that you’re changing their community.”