How to save a life

“Why is the patient here?”

There are so many answers to the question, it becomes difficult to answer.  He was victim of a terrible accident.  He is at Kijabe Hospital to receive help from legendary plastic surgeon Dr. Nthumba.  But Dr. Letchford, a veteran of 17 years in African medicine asks again.

“Why is he here in the High Dependency Unit?”

The patient has a new tracheostomy tube, or trach, which can easily become clogged with mucus in the first several days until the patient’s body adjusts to the different way of breathing.  The mucus can usually be removed using a suction machine, but sometimes the clog is so strong the machine is not able to perform.  In such an event, the trach must be removed immediately to allow breathing.

“Where are scissors?”  Dr. Letchford questions, and the search for scissors begins, while the doctor watches a clock.  Thought this is an exercise, at 4 minutes without breathing, a patient would be dead.  A scalpel blade is located, and the care-givers know exactly how to react if the worst happens.


Twenty-four hours later, the worst happens.  Mucus clogs the trach tube and the suction machine is unable to perform.  Intern Dr. Barack had been standing with Dr. Letchford the previous day, and knows exactly where the scissors are and exactly what to do.  Dr. Barack cuts the sutures and remove the clogged tube.  The patient is immediately able to breathe.  Dr. Barack, by listening, learning, and acting – saves the patient’s life.

Our consulting physicians teach interns and nurses day in and day out how to handle the realities of medicine.  How to think quickly and effectively in a crisis.  How to anticipate problems before they occur and respond appropriately when they do.  How to save a life by having the proper equipment on hand.  Well done Doctor Barack!

*if you would like to contribute to the purchase a new suction machine, please see our urgent equipment needs page: