As the US Director of the Nancy Foundation Tanzania Corp, I have been asked many times how I chose to begin this Non-Profit Organization? Actually, IT chose me! Before I continue, it is vital to understand that it is by the Grace of God that the tapestry was woven for this story.
In 2013, dear friends asked if I would go with their group to Tanzania to be the medical staff member of the group. You see, I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and I felt as though God was calling me by name to serve. The mission in Tanzania asked specifically for a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP). This is very surprising, as the role of a nurse practitioner is little known in that area of Africa. I thought deeply about the scripture Isaiah 43:1; The Lord who created you says, “Do not be afraid-I will save you. I have called you by name-you are mine.” I also remembered thinking “how can I ignore the plea to help the children in Tanzania?”
I took the journey with 6 others to help a group of children in the region of Shinyanga, Tanzania. I performed physical exams on 80+ children, with the help of each of my team members doing heights, weights, vision exams, and dental and health education. We could not have succeeded without the diligent and tireless work of our 2 translators who volunteered to help us. I also consulted with several adults who were desperate for care. In particular, 2 individuals whom I feared would lose a foot due to the severity of their illness. I gave them guidance, nursing care, and the team prayed over them. I remember thinking that this was truly what I envisioned medical care could be, that is, medical treatment with what little was available, and the power of prayer. I didn’t worry about what was politically correct.
My translator, Ezra, and I shared our faith journeys, family stories, happy and sad experiences in our lives, etc. Ezra became a dear friend in whom I would remember always. After working for approximately 2 weeks, Ezra brought his wife Neema to meet me before we left for the US. We had met her and their son Christian previously. When we talked together, Ezra told me that he had told stories to Neema of our daily experiences. They told me that they were going to pray to God for the gift of a daughter and name her Nancy.
Ezra and I continued to email and call on the phone frequently after I returned, for I felt as though I left a piece of my heart there. I hadn’t ever envisioned doing mission work in Africa, but now I can’t imagine them not being a part of my life. I was happily married with 3 grown children, and our first grandchild was born early while I was in Africa. My team and I found out on Facebook in the Dubai airport on our way home. Three months after we returned, my husband Frank was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma. I had found the suspicious mole on his back 19 years before, while in my nurse practitioner program, studying for my dermatology exam. He had a very grim prognosis then, but we both felt the Holy Spirit rush through us during the Sacrament of the Sick before his surgery. We both felt after that Holy Spirit blessing that no matter what happened, we would have the strength to get through it, with God’s never-ending help. He had a 90% chance of the cancer going to a major organ the first year after his surgery, and there was no other treatment or cure at that time. We were truly blessed with the miracle of time. Frank was able to help raise our children and saw our first 3 grandchildren born. Frank lost his battle after 16 months of fighting March 21, 2015.
The mission team was returning to Shinyanga July 2016. I felt that I was mentally and emotionally strong enough to go along. Physically, though, was another question. I had been diagnosed myself with early breast cancer when Frank was in his last 5 months of life. I was on a medication to help prevent a reoccurrence, but the side effects had me nearly immobile. It was time to make the trip reservations, and I asked God to help me, if He wanted me to do His work. I stopped the medication for quality of life reasons, and over a period of 1-2 months, regained my strength and mobility.
Our mission had changed, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do there, but intended to help with a clinic at a cramped and neglected compound for children with Albinism. When I was talking with a team member before we left, I told him I wasn’t exactly sure what my role would be. He said, “Don’t worry, God will let you know.”
When we arrived, I was anxious to see Neema, Ezra’s wife, as she was now expecting a baby in approximately 2 months. I have worked in Obstetrics as well as Pediatrics, and have taught childbirth and breastfeeding classes for expectant parents. When I first saw Neema, her swollen fingers and face took me aback. I feared she was starting with Pre-Eclampsia, which can raise the mother’s blood pressure severely, cause seizures, and result in a poor outcome for the mother and baby if not treated. She didn’t know if her blood pressure (BP) was elevated. I asked her to please go to the clinic and have her blood pressure checked. She went 2 days later and the doctor said, “I’m surprised you’re still alive”, and sent her home with BP medication and daily BP checks.
After 4 days of watching her BP remain basically unchanged, and seeing the poor conditions of healthcare for myself, I felt as if I was watching her and the baby die. My team encouraged me to do what I thought was right, so I encouraged Ezra and Neema to allow me to take them to Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, to seek some improved healthcare. A member of our 2013 team gave me the name and phone number of a doctor in Dar Es Salaam who may help me figure out where to go and who to see when we arrived. After a 3 hour drive to the nearest airport and a flight to Dar, we found a hotel and met Dr. Joshua at a hospital there. The miracle was that he actually answered my phone call, spoke English, and was willing to help, no questions asked. He ordered tests and an ultrasound. The technician asked Neema if she knew what she was having. She said, “It’s a girl”. Neema went to the hallway to Ezra and said, “We have our Nancy!”
The doctors said if we had waited another 1-2 weeks, Neema and the baby would’ve died. We transferred to a hospital that had a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). On August 3, it was decided that Neema required a cesarean section that day, as she and the baby were in peril. Baby Nancy was born weighing 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), was on room air, and was the “noisiest and most active baby in the NICU” per the doctors! In this “National” hospital, Neema had to walk up a flight of stairs after surgery because the elevator was for the staff, cats roamed the halls at night because the doors were open, there were no windows so the mosquitoes carrying malaria were abundant in the building, and the mosquito nets for the moms had big holes in them. Neema didn’t receive any pain medication after her surgery until I was allowed in 14 hours later. She hadn’t screamed so she didn’t get it until I questioned the nurse. These are just a few things that opened my eyes to the disparity of healthcare in the capital of the country. The care in the outskirts of the country is abysmal compared to western medicine. Patients are not given food or water, so someone has to bring 3 meals per day and water if they are to survive. All of the women had to use the bathroom which had porcelain holes in the floor, no rails to hold onto the wall especially with abdominal surgery or a fresh delivery, there is no hand washing available except for the doctors, and the morgue was across the driveway from a “snack bar”, which certainly reminded everyone that life is fragile, and you are fortunate if you leave alive.
After 3 weeks of deplorable conditions, I was able to get Neema and Nancy transferred to another hospital with western medicine procedures. The Director of Neonatology, Dr. Harvinder and her residents, took such wonderful care of Nancy. It was truly an answer to our prayers for help and guidance. Nancy had come so far and we all felt that God has plans for Nancy Junior (as she was called by the staff-I was Nancy Senior). On the night when Nancy was almost 5 weeks old, she vomited and aspirated while Neema was in the bathroom. Nancy went into full respiratory and cardiac arrest. The team of doctors and nurses, who filled the room while doing CPR, said, “Come on Nancy, don’t leave us, come back”. She was revived and transferred to the NICU where she was monitored closely because of aspiration pneumonia until she was discharged to us in the hotel near the hospital 2 weeks later. She was weighed frequently and they were allowed to fly her home to Shinyanga when she reached 2kg (4lbs) on October 4, 2 months after her birth.
The family arrived home safely and Nancy is thriving. She turned 1 year old on August 3, 2017, and we are eternally grateful to God. The three of us had long discussions and prayer time together about God’s plan in our journey. What if Ezra had not said “yes” to volunteer his time off from teaching to translate for us in 2013? What if I had not arrived when I did in July 2016? How, other than God’s plan, could we have orchestrated Neema being pregnant and myself having some obstetric knowledge to know she was in peril? What if Ezra, Neema and I didn’t have the trusting bond for them to say “yes” to driving and flying to Dar Es Salaam with me? What if I, a mzungu (white person), didn’t have God’s protection in a strange city unable to speak Swahili? What if I had to return home before they were discharged? What if Dr. Joshua and Dr. Harvinder didn’t take pity on us and agree to care for Neema and Nancy? So many questions but only one answer-God took care of us. Our prayers and the prayers of countless others around the world kept us strong. Our faith has been truly deepened by all of this, and we want to share the graces we’ve been given by God.
Therefore, the Nancy Foundation, which is Ezra and Neema’s idea, exists to help give others the grace we’ve been given by God. We want to teach women self worth and how to care for themselves while they are pregnant; provide education for mothers on how to keep themselves and their infants healthy, give hope where there may be little, and advocate for the women and children who are given little chance to survive and thrive.