Retired nurse practitioner helps hospital in Kenya

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FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — It was heart-wrenching.

Former Fremonter Cindy Berkland was at the Naivasha District Hospital in Kenya when the baby was born.

"We had to resuscitate the baby and after the baby went to the nursery (the newborn) was still having problems with breathing — and there was nothing we could do," she said.

The baby died and Berkland had to tell the mother. Worse yet, Berkland knew the baby would have lived had the child been born in the United States. Watching babies die and seeing the public hospital's overcrowded conditions — where mothers in the maternity ward often share beds with another mom and baby — prompted Berkland to action.

After making her first trip to Kenya in 2004, the now-retired nurse practitioner was determined to help build a new hospital. She returned to the United States and began obtaining donations.

In 2005, Fremont Area Medical Center became a sister hospital, donating hundreds of pieces of obsolete equipment. Such items determined to have no value here, like old hospital beds, are a vast improvement over cots or wooden boards commonly used as beds. Other area hospitals also began donating enough equipment for a new Women's Health Care Center in Kenya.

Now Berkland is planning an event from 5-8 p.m. Nov. 15 at Nebraska Medical Mart to celebrate a final shipment and honor FAMC along with the medical mart and Alegent Creighton Health for contributions to the new Kenyan hospital set to open in 2013. A medical team from Naivasha will be on hand. Team members also will train with medical professionals at FAMC and other area hospitals.

The medical community is invited to the FAMC event. Refreshments will be served. There also will be a boutique with beaded jewelry and art handmade in Naivasha and African-inspired artwork, prints and clothing. Proceeds will fund the Kenya hospital's next phase.

The event marks a milestone and further emphasizes the need.

Berkland remembers when she first saw that need years ago. The 110-bed Naivasha facility is the only public hospital in a 50-mile radius. Due to the expansion of floriculture and horticulture industries and the addition of 70,000 jobs in the last decade, many families have come here. The growth has strained health care facilities with the hospital serving a 400,000 population.

"I knew it wouldn't be the same as Omaha," Berkland said. "I had no idea I'd find two mothers and two babies together (in the same bed) and pre-term babies just lying in wire cots."

The cots had no warmers or monitors. Many babies die of hypothermia and 15 percent of babies admitted to the nursery die of asphyxiation. The infant mortality rate is 79 of 1,000.

"I knew we had so many things in the U.S. that we just take for granted and put them aside when we update. We don't find anyone to use the equipment," she said.

Berkland knew Nebraskans would help, but faced two issues: how to ship the equipment and where to put it in an already overcrowded hospital. She created Friends of Naivasha, a charity foundation and 501c3 organization, comprised of people in the U.S. and flower farmers in Kenya.

Construction on the new women's hospital started in 2007. In January, the women's hospital will open, providing 72 beds. There will be private birthing rooms (women now give birth together in one room, with no space for family members). Fundraising continues for Phase 3, which would add 20 beds. Kenyans were part of the project from the start, helping design and building it.

Berkland began collecting equipment years ago. Equipment was stored until enough was collected for a 40-foot container. Thus far, 13 of those containers have been shipped.

FAMC was part of the first shipment, providing everything from outdated bedspreads, curtains, uniforms and towels to obsolete equipment like heart monitors and infant warmers.

"Every time I had a container going I would call or they would call me and say, 'Do you need this?'" Berkland said.

Dr. Colleen Dilley was the first to donate an ultrasound machine to the Kenya hospital. Brandon Hoy and Jason McDermott, owners of Nebraska Medical Mart, donated nine oxygen concentrators. An Omaha church bought a commercial washer and dryer.

Valmont Industries has donated packing and shipping of the containers.

Berkland is looking forward to the FAMC event and the opening of the new Kenyan hospital.

"It's finally going to be open and available for the people who need it so badly," she said.

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

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