In my previous post, I wrote about my visit to NK with the Eugene Bell Foundation. In this post I will be focusing on Dongdaewon, which is the TB care centre in NK that our SFS community have supported for the past 6 years. I thought it would be interesting if we take a tour around the care centre and see the very real difference that our fundraising has made in the lives of the staff and patients at this centre. Come along and check it out! It is pretty inspiring what our faculty, students and school community have achieved.
Welcome to Dongdaewon. When I visited, there were about 163 patients being treated at the centre. As you can see it is out in the countryside.
This is the director, Mr Cha. He is a new director because the previous director died.
I first met the Dongdaewon patients at Sadong. Many patients had come by truck to do testing for MDR TB. It was very cold and the patients had to stand and wait for a long time for their testing, as there were patients from many care centres there for testing. Someone pointed out the patients waiting to me and told me that this particular group had come from Dongdaewon. I was very excited to see them, as I have been involved in fundraising for them for a long time and finally, I could meet the patients in real life. Someone told the patients that I was a teacher from SFS. A buzz moved through the line and their faces lit up with warmth and smiles. There were many thank yous and a lot of bowing. The patients are so incredibly appreciative of our help. It was a very humbling thing to be on the receiving end of that.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there is an escalating problem with MDR TB in North Korea. At present, 56 of the 163 patients at Dongdaewon are receiving MDR meds. This time around, we sputum tested another 30 or so patients. Any patients that were sputum tested have been through several rounds of DOTs medications and are not responding. So potentially, we could have half of our patients having MDR meds. This is a big problem. Financially the drugs cost a lot more (about $100.00 USD a patient per month, whereas DOTs costs about $50.00 USD for an entire treatment cycle). In addition, they take a lot longer to act, and the response rate isn't as good. Testing is very detailed. In the picture above, you can see that patients are weighed and measured.
They then talk with the medical staff and provide a sputum sample. To do this, they cough up mucus from deep within their lungs. This is collected in bottles and sent to South Korea to be cultured. The culture takes about 5 months to grow, and from that, doctors get a detailed picture of which drugs the each MDR patient is resistant to, and which drugs can be used in their treatment.
Each patient is photographed and their photograph is used to identify them with their medication when they receive it in 6 months time. They will receive a box of medicine particularly tailored to their needs. As I mentioned above, this medication is a lot more expensive than DOTs meds, but without it the patients will die. The drugs make the patients feel very sick. Their bodies fight the drugs, but they need the drugs to fight their TB. At present we provide all the DOTs meds for all DOTs patients at Dongdaewon and also for three of the MDR patients.
Eugene Bell run a great scheme where they match individual donors with individual MDR patients to help. They send each donor a comprehensive update from the visits in. If you are interested in helping a NK patient this way, please contact Eugene Bell here. I can vouch that the patients WILL get their drugs and the help you provide.New patients have to wait 6 months for their drugs to arrive, and as mentioned in my previous post, not all patients will live to see the drugs that give them the hope of a new day and a life of health. It was wonderful to see some of our patients who have now gone through several cycles of their drugs and are looking so much better than when I first saw them in photos.
So ... many people wonder, where does the money go that we give? SFS commits to raising the money for a 6 month resupply kit. For the past few years, we have been able to provide the resupply kit for a whole year at Dongdaewon. We will talk more about the resupply kit in a moment, but lets see where else the money has gone. In the picture above, you can see the resupply kit we sent in boxes. Inside the boxes are supplies for the xray and microscope, drugs, medical records, plastic for the greenhouses and numerous other bits and pieces the centre needs to care for the patients. You can see a small chinese tractor that we have provided the centre with. This is used in the fields to help with nutrition. Many people in NK have poor nutrition and this makes them more susceptible to TB. An important part of treatment, is good nutrition. The centre grows it's own food. You can also see the a truck in the picture above. Our money was used to provide the centre with truck. They are able to use it to transport patients around the countryside. When the patients came to Sadong for testing, they came in the truck.
One of the important things that we have provided Dongdaewon with, is an x-ray machine. This is used to assist the doctors in diagosing patients and the progress of their TB. Eugene Bell have trained an x-ray technician - Mr Huh (you can see him holding onto the green thing in the picture above). Mr Huh is from NK and travels around the countryside with Eugene Bell, fixing the machines as we visit each centre. In between EB visits, he cannot travel around, as people are not able to move freely between provinces. You need the appropriate papers to move around the country, and these must be checked at various check points along the way. Part of our resupply kit provides parts for the machine, along with the films and solutions needed. At a couple of centres we visited, Eugene Bell provided a mobile x-ray truck, which can travel to different locations.
One of the reasons why the x-ray machine is so important, is that without it, doctors resort to fluroscopy. You can see a fluroscope in the picture above. Dr Linton is standing in as a patient. The room is normally in total darkness. On the right hand side of the picture you can see something that looks like a canister. That emits a stream of radiation which passes through the patient and lights up an image on the screen in front. A doctor has to stay in the room with the patient to read the screen. When the machine is turned off, the picture is gone. The problem is that doctors see many patients and are exposed to large amounts of radiation. Many have become sick and died from radiation poisoning. The x-ray machine is much better, because the doctor does not have to stay in the room with the patient. They can read the resulting picture without being exposed to all the radiation. Sadly, if the machine breaks down, they will resort to the fluroscope while waiting for more parts.
In this picture you can see one of the Dongdaewon doctors checking out patient samples in a microscope. Notice how the room has big windows and is very light. It is because there is no power except by generator. Doctors rely on natural light to read x-rays and look at samples. The reason they have a microscope to use at Dongdaewon is because of our fundraising. We also provide all the stains, slides etc that they need as part of the resupply kit.
I was able to look through a prepared slide. The TB bacteria shows up as thin red rods. They are so tiny and harmless looking, and yet these are the very bacteria that cause suffering for multitudes of people world wide. (Picture borrowed from South Carolina School of Medicine).
Other people also contribute towards Dongdaewon. Although we provide supplies for nutrition, Caritas provides soya beans. These are highly nutritious and cheap, and Caritas provides them to many care centres.
One company also provided a winter warmer kit, which included new winter coats for the patients!
This year, at SFS we sent several thousand paper cranes up to NK. Students were unable to write letters to wish patients good health, so we took paper cranes. Students from all over the school made hundreds of cranes - each one representative of wishes for good health and peace to the patients. Some of our JK students sprinkled glitter on their cranes as a sample of their wishes. When I presented the cranes with the wishes of our students, nurses and staff faces lit with pleasure and joy. There was lots of smiling and laughing. It was a very very COLD day when we were at Dongdaewon so not many patients were outside. Some were and received strings to take back to their rooms. The staff took the cranes around the various patient rooms and there were a lot of smiles and pleasure at the thoughts, wishes and personal touch from our students.
In my next post, I will introduce you to some of the patients and their stories. We are a few weeks out from kicking off our fundraising for 2010. Look at the difference you have made already and start dreaming of what we could do this year. Maybe you have some creative ideas that you would like to try for fundraising. Talk to your teachers ... or if you are staff, let me know what you are doing and go for it. This year, when we kick off, I am going to put up weekly reports so we can inspire and celebrate each other's creativity. If you are not from SFS and reading this, maybe you are inspired to do something to help. Eugene Bell would love to talk with you. They have a sound history and great working relationship with the people in North Korea. They are a trustworthy organisation to support. You can contact them here. Thanks for reading ... see you soon!