God is using a CT scanner to reach five million Ethiopians with the Gospel



In 2013, an anonymous donor gave nearly $1 million in equipment to Soddo Christian Hospital. While the donation contained dozens of important items, the gem of the collection was a brand new computed tomography (CT) scanner. By itself, this one piece of equipment is helping us spread the Gospel to the five million people in our region of Ethiopia.

Here’s how.

CT technology produces tomographic images (literally layered slices) of the inside of a patient’s body. Think of a standard x-ray machine, such as the kind you might have experienced if you broke your arm as a child. That type of machine can produce only one snap shot of a patient. But a CT scanner can produce a picture of each layer of the patient, giving us a vastly greater amount of information, which in turn helps us make much more accurate diagnoses, and guide more effective treatments for patients. It’s not hard to see why a CT scanner has become an important tool for any hospital to have.

And, currently, we have the only CT scanner for our region of five million people.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that patients from all across our region, many of whom lives hundreds of kilometers away, come here to Soddo Christian Hospital for their treatment because they require a CT scanner. And each one of these patients receives the Gospel message from our staff. In fact, orthopedic patients (those needing treatment on their bones) are the most frequently in need of CT imaging, and these patients tend to have long hospital stays (often lasting weeks) as they recover from surgery, which means we can share the Gospel with them over and over again, and disciple those who receive Christ!

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Recently, two of our physicians - orthopedic surgeon Duane Anderson and radiologist Karl Roth - performed an extremely advanced procedure using the CT scanner. Called a CT-guided biopsy, this procedure is only performed in a handful of hospitals in the US. In February, a patient named Dagmwi came to us with a suspicious bone tumor in his pelvis. Guided by images that Dr. Roth produced on the CT scanner, Dr. Anderson was able to accurately insert a needle into the tumor and extract a sample for analysis. The root issue turned out to be an infection, and Dagmwi was placed on antibiotics. Without the CT-guided biopsy, Dagmwi would have had to undergo a complicated surgery in order to diagnose the problem.

This story is just one example of the power of the CT scanner that God has blessed us with. He’s using this tool to draw patients like Dagmwi to our hospital for treatment. We’re able to provide high-quality care, and we’re also able to share the love of Jesus Christ. It’s a winning combination that is seeing Ethiopians brought to Christ every week. We praise God for this gift, and we look forward to using it for His glory for years to come.

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A Team Effort

The hospital has been buzzing lately about a young woman whose life was saved.  And with good reason!  She may be one of only a few patients to be mechanically ventilated and survive in this part of Ethiopia.

Tseganesh was pregnant and getting near term, when she started feeling bad.  She went to another health care facility, and after three days in the hospital, was discharged.  Unfortunately, a few days after that, she started having seizures.  Those in the medical community will recognize exactly what Tseganesh had.  It is called eclampsia and it is life-threatening to both mom and baby.

When she came to Soddo Christian Hospital, she had been seizing for ten straight hours.  She was rushed to the OR for immediate Cesarean delivery.  It was two beautiful babies.   Twins!  The babies seemed okay, but Tseganesh was getting much worse.  Though the seizures were controlled with medications, brain damage was suspected.  At one point in the surgery, she even arrested briefly.  Fluid had begun to fill her lungs, and it appeared that she aspirated as well during the seizures.  She was critically ill to the point of near-death.

After the surgery, it was clear that Tseganesh was not going to breathe on her own.  We made the decision to mechanically ventilate her, but with great trepidation.  You see, our ventilator is brand new, and our staff are not very experienced with it.   Ventilating a patient like this would be common in the West, but here, it could be a death sentence.  Our physician and nursing staff were committed to saving this young woman's life.  So, day and night, a staff member was at her bedside.  Turning her, keeping her breathing tube clear, monitoring the ventilator.   And praying.   We all took turns, and begged God to save this young woman's life.  And after five days on the ventilator, her lungs had cleared to the point where she could breathe on her own.

At long last, she was finally able to hold and feed her two precious babies!

We praise God for so many things in this young woman's story:

  • that He united our staff to work hard and provide excellent medical care
  • that our prayers were answered, and her life was saved
  • that she appears to have no brain damage from prolonged seizing and cardiac arrest
  • that the two twin babies are healthy and thriving
  • that willing donors from abroad gave money so that the hospital could procure a quality ventilator
Two of our staff while Tseganesh is ventilated prone - an indication of how seriously ill she was.
Two of our staff and Tseganesh while prone - an indication of how seriously ill she was.  Prone ventilation is used on the sickest of patients.
Out of the ICU with her beautiful babies.
Out of the ICU with her beautiful babies.

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Teamwork at SCH

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As our capabilities at Soddo Christian Hospital expand, we are working together as a team to make diagnoses, and provide cutting edge treatment for patients.  The other day, we had a woman present to the Emergency Room with upper abdominal pain and fever.  The ER docs did a great job with the bedside ultrasound finding what appeared to be either a fluid collection or a mass in her liver (top left picture).  Then, a CT scan by the Radiology Department confirmed that it was indeed an abscess in the liver (lower pane).  Finally, our expert radiologist teamed up with our surgeons (that's our chief resident Dr. Segni in the top right picture) to do an ultrasound-guided percutaneous drain.  This is a minimally invasive way to get the infection out instead of a big operation.

We are so proud of all of our services working together to get the best outcomes for patients!  Praise God for new technologies and teamwork!

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Ebola Training

The current Ebola epidemic is devastating.  Already, it has taken more lives than all other Ebola epidemics before it.  We pray that this deadly diseases does not come to Ethiopia.  But if it does, we want to be prepared.  And to keep our staff as safe as possible.

We have purchased Tyvek suits, goggles, boots, masks.  Everything that we need to keep our providers safe.  And this past month, we did some training with our nurses, on how to protect themselves if a suspected case came our way.

Learning to put on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
Learning to put on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Neurosurgery at SCH?!?

What do you think happens when you combine the following:

  1. A country with the highest number of pedestrians struck by vehicles relative to cars on the road
  2. A brand new CT scanner among a population of 5 million people who previously had none

If you answered, “a lot of new diagnoses of head trauma”, you’d be right.  Our CT scanner is practically smoking with all the head CTs for trauma that are being done.  Most of the time, we find non-operative bleeds.  But the last two weeks has been extraordinary.  In September alone, we have taken seven patients to the OR with epidural and subdural hematomas that required emergency surgery.

head bleedsAbove are just four of the actual scans done here in the past two weeks.  And there are more!  We’ve had great outcomes so far, and our surgery residents and staff are doing more emergent neurosurgery than they ever could have imagined.

We praise God that He provided through our donors.  Through your generosity, we got a CT scanner.  And it is being used for His glory as lives are being saved.  May the name of Christ go forth in southern Ethiopia as we use this gift.  That is our prayer.

Fantastic Visitor Video!

Andre Ishak, his wife Jeanine, and their son Brandon just visited us for about 10 days.  Dr. Ishak is a Hand Surgeon, and he performed many life-altering and wonderful surgeries during their time here.  We were very blessed to have them.  Check out the amazing video they made to document their trip!

Ethiopia 2014 from Andre Ishak on Vimeo.

21 New Hips!

Recently, we had the privilege to be visited by a joint specialist from the US.  Dr. Clint Barnett is an orthopedic surgeon at the Scott & White Medical Center in Temple, Texas.  He specializes in replacing worn out knees and hips in patients who have suffered from severe arthritis and debilitating pain.

Last week, he brought those skills to Ethiopia and Soddo Christian Hospital.  In just one week, he and Dr. Anderson and our OR crew knocked out 21 hip replacements!  Yes, that's right.  Twenty-one!

21 patients who had been suffering for years with severe pain.

21 patients who could barely walk.

21 patients whose lives will never be the same.

We are so proud of our OR team as well.  These anesthetists, scrub nurses, porters, autoclave staff, and recovery room staff worked extra hours and on weekends to get the work done!  Near the end of the campaign, we had a couple of the patients come up to the front of our weekly chapel service to share how they were already feeling better.

At Soddo Christian Hospital, our desire is to provide excellent medical services and make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are thankful that God sends servants like Dr. Barnett our way, and pray that God will all the glory for the work that is done here in Soddo!

One Day Too Late

"If only she had come in one day sooner."  I can't tell you how many times I think that here.  Elfinesh was a 32 year old woman in the prime of her life, with a loving husband and two small children.  She came in to the emergency room with a history of four days of vomiting.  The illness, abrupt in onset, had taken a horrific toll on her body in such a short time.  It was probably sepsis - when an infection spreads rapidly through the body via the blood.

We worked as hard as we could.  Three of our staff doctors and two of our nurses attended to her simultaneously.  Placing IV lines, giving fluids, antibiotics, running tests.  Elfinesh clung to life, but she was so far gone that she was in a coma and unresponsive to anything.  A few hours into her course, she stopped breathing.  We tried to support her breathing, and when her heart stopped, we tried CPR.  Unfortunately, our attempts came to nothing, and after about four hours, she passed from this life into the next.

I wish I could tell you this was a rare occurrence.  But the reality is that in a country where access to medical care is sorely lacking, many patients wait too long.  Maybe they live several days' walk from the nearest health center.  Maybe they have no money to scrape together even the $2 that it would take to see a doctor.  Perhaps they are delayed by traditional and cultural healing practices that actually exacerbate the problem.  The barriers to care are numerous, and as a result, many suffer.  All of our providers can tell stories of patients who came in just a day too late.

You see, there are no Minute Clinics in Ethiopia.  In our region of 3 million people, there are only two hospitals.  There are no accredited laboratories.  In a country of 90 million people, there are only 18 CT scanners.  There are NO cardiac surgeons.  Consider even the lack of the most basic of health care needs - trained general practitioners.  In Ethiopia, there is only one doctor for every 50,000 population.  (In the US, there are 100 times as many providers per capita).

We are working to address these issues.  Not only are we providing care, but we are training in order to build capacity.  But we need your help!  With funding, we can provide more training and more service.  We can expand access so that there are fewer stories that end like Elfinesh's.  Help us help Ethiopia.

Happy World TB Day 2014!

You probably haven’t heard much about tuberculosis, or TB.  Maybe you remember that Nicole Kidman’s character Satine in Moulin Rouge died from TB.  Or you remember Katerina Ivanova in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  But you probably don’t personally know anyone with the disease.

But the fact is, TB is everywhere.  Epidemiologists estimate that 2.3 billion people in the world are infected with TB.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Two point three billion.  Fully one-third of the world’s 7 billion population.

Why have you not heard much about it then?  Well, because in the US, less than 1% of the population has been infected with TB.

The thing is, TB is a disease of the developing world.  Every year, 9 million new people are diagnosed with TB disease – and 98% of them live in the developing world.  Nelson Mandela said, “The world has made defeating AIDS a top priority.  This is a blessing.  But TB remains ignored. …We can’t fight AIDS unless we do much more to fight TB as well.”

In the emergency room in Ethiopia, I see TB every single day.  Literally.  Last week, I saw a woman come in with abdominal pain who had lost a fourth of her body weight.  She looked like a skeleton.  Her abdomen was rigid and tender, and it turned out she had TB infection of the intestines.  Another day, I saw an adolescent with back pain because TB had destroyed his spine (we call this Pott’s disease).

This is the kind of stuff that you only read about in textbooks in America.  But in Africa, it is deadly real.  Ethiopia is one of the “high burden” countries for TB – 22 countries which make up 82% of the entire world’s cases .  In Ethiopia, there are 280,000 new cases of TB diagnosed every year.  Epidemiologists call this “incidence”.  (By contrast, in the US, there are about 10,000 new cases of TB every year).   The Millennium Development Goals are seeking to reduce TB in countries like Ethiopia.  But the political will is lacking.  There are few high profile celebrities with TB.   Research dollars that go toward TB are dwarfed by that of HIV.  Though we have countless new drugs for HIV, we have NO NEW DRUGS to treat TB.

What can we do to fight TB?  For centuries, the only way to diagnose it has been by looking at someone’s sputum under a microscope.  And this only catches TB 50% of the time!  (In contrast, the test for HIV is in the blood, and is 99% accurate at detecting the disease).  Finally, in recent years, a device has been developed that can confirm TB.  It is called the GeneXpert, and we hope to get one here at Soddo Christian Hospital.

So today, on World TB Day, perhaps you find yourself asking, “What can I do to help stop TB?” Well, if you’re a friend of Soddo Christian Hospital, the answer is surprisingly simple.  We would like to get a GeneXpert.  It will make diagnosis of the disease more accurate, and allow us to help many more people.  We will detect when patients are suffering from this horrible disease, and can start lifesaving therapies immediately.


The Blind See

"It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:3

This is how Jesus responded to his disciples when they asked him why the blind man couldn't see.  God intended to show his mercy and power in the miraculous healing of this poor beggar.

Now, meet Dana.  Dana is Ethiopian, and 60 years old.  Not blind from birth, but for many years.  At a young age he suffered trauma to one of his eyes that left him blind on that side.  Then, beginning in middle age, he started to develop a cataract in his good eye.  As the years passed, the cloudy vision progressed further and further.  The cataract became solidly opaque, and Dana was left completely blind.

Dana doesn't live in Soddo, but in one of the even more remote villages many kilometers from town.  In the villages, many suffer from all sorts of diseases and disabilities, and access to health care is minimal to non-existent.  The idea that there would even be the possibility of healing would be completely foreign to most of the villagers.  Through our partnership with Mossy Foot, SCH sends health workers into some of these villages.  And one day our ophthalmologist, Dr. Nahom, saw Dana as part of one of those outreaches.

Dana, who had lived in darkness for over a decade, heard that a surgery might bring his sight back.

At the Eye Clinic here at Soddo Christian Hospital (a partnership with MMI), Dr. Nahom performed surgery on his eye, removing the clouded lens that prevented him from seeing.  He replaced it with a new lens, and for the first time in many years, Dana could see again.  The beautiful green slopes of Mount Damota.  The fiery blooms of the hibiscus trees.  The faces of his beloved family.  He could see it all again, as he had many years ago.  Not just in his mind's eye anymore.  But actually see them!

 "That the works of God might be displayed in him..."

At Soddo Christian Hospital, we are correcting all kinds of ocular problems - cataracts, strabismus, pterygium, trabeculectomy, nasolacrimal duct stenting, and tarsotomy for trachoma - just to name a few.  And we are doing it, so that the works of God might be displayed.  When we operate on anyone at this hospital, they hear the Gospel.  That Jesus died to set them free from sin.  We aren't just about physical healing, but spiritual healing as well.

May God be glorified as many re-gain their sight at Soddo Christian Hospital.