Thursday, January 29, 2015
Cessna CaravanDave with Samaritans Purse pilot Mike Kerls at Spriggs Airport Monrovia, Liberia. Five minutes later part of our SP team will be loading up for a 45 minute flight to Foya to visit the Ebola Treatment Unit. This is the ETU that just over 4 months ago was seeing hundreds of patients as the Ebola epidemic was expanding in Liberia. Today the Foya ETU is having a Commissioning Service as it is being changed from an ETU to a Transition Center. The local hospital will refer suspect Ebola patients to the location but the celebration today will be that currently there are no patients!
As you roll out onto the runway it is always comforting to see the helpful presence of the U.S. Military that has responded to assist with the Ebola crisis.
Sitting in the right seat I am itching to get some right seat time. As a single engine (very non-complex) pilot I know just enough to be very dangerous.
Dr. Natahlie MacDermott giving me that look, "You are not flying...right Dave?"
Final Approach Foya Airstrip
Foya Ebola Treatment Unit
With hundreds of patients just months ago the Liberian staff were stressed to the limit but courageously fought back the epidemic. One side was for suspected Ebola patients and the other was for confirmed Ebola patients.
The Sign says it all...DECONTAMINATION
The doctors, nurses and staff were working around the clock when the tragic day came that one of there staff contracted Ebola and died. Many staff could have left and the fear was real and could be felt all around them. They stayed. They not only stayed they did not give up and fought back this incredibly unforgiving virus that knows no people group, no boundary or international border. They are the unsung heroes. Today was a day to celebrate with the Commissioning Service to rename the Ebola Treatment Unit to the "Transition Unit." Today there were no patients being treated and we prayed that it would stay that way.
Just give me a few moments off camera to work on this photo...
Much better...almost 100% participation. The party began and you would have to see the video clips I have to see the dancing - including our SP staff!
From the Commissioning Service we left for some more serious business due to the possible need to do some contact tracing to confirm a potential Ebola case was not developing in the town. We drove to the Foya Hospital to check on a 9 year old girl who was in stable condition but in pretty bad shape due to a brutal rape. Another girl also 9 years old needed to be checked on in town at her home. The investigation did not lead to a concern for Ebola transmission but it did raise the concern of adequate care for both girls if they were left in Foya. Today we would transfer the 9 year old from the hospital with her mom back to Monrovia. Later in the week plans were made to bring back the other 9 year old that we spoke to at home.
The second girl may be pregnant. With gender based violence a severe problem in Liberia those of us in the West almost have to make sure we just read that correctly. 9 years old and possibly pregnant. Please pray for both these girls and the many other young children in Liberia that are at risk. The government with the help of many outside agencies is trying to slow these horrific crimes and improve the conviction rate through their judicial system. There is still much work to be done as many of these children have been through more tragedy already than most of us could experience in a lifetime or more.
The little girl pictured below probably had never or rarely been in a vehicle. Now she was siting in a big airplane about to fly to the large city of Monrovia which she could never imagine from her small corner of the world in Foya. She needed surgery due to her injuries, antibiotics due to infections and nourishment due to her malnourished condition.
Sometimes it is about just saving one life!
Please continue to pray for Liberia and the surrounding countries in West Africa. We are hearing good news of Ebola cases going down but are also aware that February 2nd school begins with all the fears that go along with it. Lessons have been learned and hopefully the world leaders that control the response to such world threatening epidemics will not again be slow to respond allowing a virus like Ebola to dig deep roots before it can be contained.
Now everyone is here and the current need is that the vast amount of supplies and financial support will be placed in the right hands to do the most good resulting in economic development for Liberia. Most importantly pray that spiritual development will result from the many families that are putting there lives back together. Many of them have little or no hope.
I believe the Lord wants us to reach out to those in need and that does not need to be all the way over in Liberia. I also believe that we need to offer others the true hope that lies within us as the result of becoming followers of Jesus Christ. In the end whether we live in a beautiful home in Newport Beach, California, the inner city of Los Angeles or the recovering country of Liberia our efforts will always fall short. That is because it is not about us! It is about Jesus living through us. Are we trusting Him because our circumstances are comfortable or are we following Him at all costs? I have been asking myself that a lot the past weeks. It would be much easier to say "Lord, you know I am not the one. I have messed up too much and failed more than I have succeeded." I really liked that line but then realized that I was again making it about me! Who am I to tell the Creator of the Universe that he is not capable of restoring my life and continuing to use me as he has planned before the creation of time?
Jesus died on a cross and gave everything to give me a free gift. Am I willing to give everything and follow Him? I don't think this is about "where" we are serving the Lord but I do think deep down we all know the answer to the question when the Lord asks, "WILL...YOU...FOLLOW...ME?" Some days I just feel like I am getting back up with my "go bag", dusting myself off and saying, "I'm in Lord...I'm coming." I picture the Lord always standing there with a smile saying, "No problem, lets go. Nothing will be more fulfilling, nothing as exciting and we will do it together."
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Pictured below Liberian National Police on patrol in downtown Monrovia
Outside the Ebola Treatment Unit on the Samaritans Purse Compound. Today as I drove by I witnessed a group singing worship songs (pictured further below) celebrating a man who was about to be released from the unit confirmed to have survived Ebola and now free of the virus. His family would be arriving soon to take him home. At this time this past week we officially had zero patients on the confirmed Ebola side of the unit.
A partial view of the Samaritan's Purse Campus in Monrovia, Liberia
Before going into our daily staff devotion at the SP campus a photo of a healthy little guy named "Andrew" the son of a local pastor.
Meet Norman pictured here in front of Dr. Kent & Amber Brantly's home on the SP Campus. Norman was assigned to the Brantly's residence before and during the time the horrible news was delivered that Dr. Brantly was confirmed to have Ebola. Norman continues to this day to patrol the property around the Brantly home hoping that he will once again see them return to Liberia.
The Worship Team that brought gifts of food and sanitation buckets to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) celebrating the soon release of an Ebola free patient.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Sunday January 11, 2015 Isaiah 58:10
"And if you give yourself to the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then your light will rise in darkness and
your gloom will become like midday."
Some of our housing at the Samaritans Purse compound in Monrovia, Liberia is right on the beach. Standing on the sand looking out at the crashing waves of the Atlantic you have to remind yourself of the reality of what is happening. Closing my eyes I might think I was back in Huntington Beach, California next door to Westminster where I spent my law enforcement career. It is only when you open your eyes and turn around the reality hits you. Those of you in the U.S can read the recent copy of Time Magazine to read the story of the "Ebola Fighters" and gain a sense of where our team is at work. In fact we are at "ground zero."
Today I had planned to take a run around a portion of the compound and then begin to walk the property talking to our security guards as I met them throughout the large sprawling compound. As I was making my first security assessment of our actual compound the blog sent to me by one of the doctors here came to life. She had been completely in the center of those initial Ebola outbreak days back in the summer and I was now slowly walking toward the two hospitals on our compound. The hospital on the right is for regular patients and is quite busy while just down the road a little further the Ebola Unit sign in bright red letters stands as a warning to all. This is where suspected and confirmed Ebola cases are being treated here in Monrovia, Liberia.
As I walked toward the security entrance to talk to one of our specially trained security guards for the Ebola Unit I felt the hair begin to stand up on the back of my neck. After more than a quarter century of responding to police calls I had never sensed anything like this. It was a beautiful day with a light breeze and although hot and humid no one would ever know what was now just a few yards beyond a cinder block wall. Today I am told two patients are confirmed to have Ebola and eight others are waiting for test results. As we are talking some police officers drive up with lights and siren with a patient in the back of there truck for the regular hospital adjacent but a safe distance from the Ebola unit.
At this mornings staff worship and devotion a Liberian mom shared a prayer request concerning the upcoming question on everyone's mind in Monrovia and beyond..."Should I send my children back to school?" Despite encouraging signs of Ebola cases going down in number a new concern is presented in that people may begin not paying attention to sanitation safety procedures. No one shakes hands, hugs, or touches each other here and before going into any building you wash your hands at a bleach station and dip the bottom of your shoes into bleach before entering. How do you insure that children are not going to share everything they own and eat at school? Most children are staying home...at least for now.
Why did they come?
So why did many fly from various parts of the world to the epicenter of the most deadly disease on the planet while many other medical personnel, aid workers and businesses were fleeing the country?
From the blog of one of our doctors here on our team...
"On July 14th I travelled to Monrovia, Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief to assist with the response to the Ebola epidemic. I had approximately 10 days notice of the need for me to travel and so had spent that time desperately trying to obtain time off work and gather the necessary essentials for the trip. The neonatal unit at ..................Hospital, where I was working, were kind and granted me 2 weeks of unpaid leave to go. At the time the Ebola epidemic had barely graced the news headlines but I had been following the situation since February/March time due to my interest in infectious diseases. It was very apparent to me during those few months that the epidemic was different from previous epidemics and was evolving on a rapid level. (emphasis mine)
When I was requested to travel to Monrovia I didn’t hesitate to volunteer. I knew it was where God wanted me to be and though this may sound crazy to many, for me it was simple – if I didn’t volunteer, along with the many others who already had and would in the coming months, this epidemic was going to be completely out of control before the world woke up to it. (emphasis mine) I could not sit knowing what was developing, and the level of suffering involved, and not act. Also it was an opportunity to work with a disease that most doctors only get to read about in their careers, an opportunity to gain further understanding of a pathogen I had long had an avid fascination about. So I got on a plane.
I knew before I went the risk I was taking and that medical evacuation in the context of Ebola was, at that time, essentially impossible. I knew if I contracted Ebola whilst working in Liberia I would likely die a painful and lonely death in Liberia. I had no experience of managing Ebola and no formal training in personal protective equipment (PPE) and decontamination measures. I learned on the ground. I was trained by Dr Kent Brantly, Dr John Fankhauser and Dr Debbie Eisenhut, three US physicians who had been working in Liberia long before Ebola ever arrived. They had set up a small isolation facility at the ELWA mission hospital as they were acutely aware Ebola would at some point arrive on their doorstep; at the time there were no treatment facilities in Monrovia. At the end of June Ebola did land on their doorstep and that is where this story really begins."
The Task Ahead
Having said all this I believe my main tasks are going to be driving into town to network with police officials, the United Nations, U.S. Embassy, NCIS, the Emergency Operations Center for all NGO's (Non Governmental Organizations) and others. All for the purpose of maintaining oversight of security on a national and local level to provide the best up to date protection for the many SP staff working in Liberia. We currently have approximately 95 security personnel throughout Liberia with the majority of them here at the Samaritans Purse Monrovia base headquarters.
I would appreciate your prayers that during the networking with police officials that we may see in the future an opportunity to bring U.S police officers to help train and integrate the officers with the needs of the Liberian people through our work with Safe Harbor International. I will try to post some pictures in the coming days of the SP Compound along with portions of Monrovia and its people. I may not be able to pick up children and hug them but I can take lots of pictures. Pray for these children. First that they stay safe and free from further spreading of Ebola and second for the start to the healing of the long term trauma they have gone through losing friends and loved ones.
Jesus says a lot about helping the poor and the afflicted. It is encouraging to see fellow believers willing to demonstrate radical love by pouring themselves out for so many in desperate need of care and protection.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
December 10, 2015
"Walking on Sacred Ground"
Pictured Above: Samaritans Purse Helicopter
I arrived via Brussels, Belgium in Monrovia, Liberia West Africa this past Monday evening just after 9PM. I had accepted a 51 day assignment with Samaritans Purse to serve as their Regional Security Manager alongside of the SP Ebola Emergency Response Team. As the Ebola crisis unfolded before the worlds eyes no amount of following Fox News coverage or research would prepare me for what I would begin to see, hear and experience once the sun rose on Tuesday.
My first three days were full with training and handing off of security protocols to me by the outgoing Regional Security Manager. The Samaritans Purse base in Monrovia, Liberia is large and a hub of activity with staff from Liberia and places like Canada, the U.S. and Switzerland to name a few. The staff starts each day with worship and devotion in the campus chapel. There are numerous personal stories among the Liberian staff some of whom have lost loved ones to the Ebola virus as well as tremendous empathy, compassion and the love of Christ shared by the expatriate staff serving day after day often with little or no rest.
This point of reference to the staff's devotion and commitment is what I want to impress you with in this first journal entry. Although there is much human desire and exertion of energy on behalf of those in desperate need of physical and spiritual healing it is not the source of their strength. Unmistakably the sole source of energy, grace, empathy, caring and compassion of these dear staff has come from Jesus Christ! It is absolutely and confidently why I can tell you that in just these first few days I have been ...
"Walking on Sacred Ground"
One of the pilots and his wife serving here once attended the same church with us in Southern California. They were very involved with other staff back in July when two of SP's medical personnel contracted Ebola and thrust Liberia and SP into a news spotlight worldwide. Just today driving back from a job site Wendy was reading to Chris and me from a recently published book from an SP staff member describing the unimaginable chaos, extremes of emotion and grace of God experienced by all this past summer. We all took turns shedding tears as Wendy read during our very typical bumpy African ride. We shed tears because all of this was extremely real and personal to so many. God has sent angels through Samaritans Purse to be Jesus to these suffering moms, dads and precious children.
A doctor here has shared her blog with me of her journey through the most difficult days of the Ebola outbreak. In coming days I may be able to share some small appropriate samples. In all this we see the Liberian staff here loudly and confidently praising the Lord through the sharing of his word and worship.
My days will be filled with networking with police, government officials and other humanitarian aid groups working in Liberia. This week I attended the Liberian Emergency Operation Center networking meeting and met with a security group at the United States Embassy. Please pray with me for the ongoing safety for the staff here in Liberia.
Thank you for praying!!
Pictured Above: The "Pod" trial assemble and load test for future Ebola patient transport if and when approved by Samaritans Purse
Pictured Above: Creating the sterile environment of the Pod
Pictured Above: Preparation for helicopter patient loading
Pictured Above: SP medical personnel inspecting components of the Pod
Pictured Above: Full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) trial run. My role if a call out was approved would be to assure security at loading site in partial PPE flying in alongside of the full PPE team. Trial was to be familiarized in case an emergency arose requiring full PPE gear use.
Pictured Above: Each meticulous step of putting on full PPE gear and taking it off along with sterilizing spray at each step is always done with a buddy system to insure that not one step is missed.