U-M nurse anesthetist leads medical relief trip in Kenya with U-M and Henry Ford health systems

As a nurse anesthetist at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, as well as Henry Ford Health System, Elizabeth Studley closely monitors patients each day to make sure they are safe, comfortable and relaxed. But Studley’s commitment to helping others extends beyond hospital walls.

Kenya Relief medical team from U-M Health System Henry Ford Health System

The U-M Health System and Henry Ford Health System will send a total of 23 medical staff to Kenya this week to offer much-needed medical relief to local residents.

For the last five years, she has led a team of surgeons and other health care providers from both HFHS and the UMHS to provide care to people in Kenya.

This week, she will again travel to the East African country with 23 surgeons, anesthesia providers, nurses, surgical technicians and pharmacists who will offer lifesaving medical relief in a region with scarce access to health care. The volunteers will provide care to people in local communities, many who travel for miles to see a physician for the first time in their lives. The team expects to see 450-600 patients and perform 50-80 surgeries—ranging from general surgery and dentistry to pediatrics and ear, nose and throat procedures—in just three days. Studley’s team is the largest of 21 groups who volunteer with KenyaRelief.Org.

As she prepares for the trip on Thursday, Studley answered some questions about why she’s so dedicated to this work.

How long have you been volunteering in Kenya?
I went on my first mission trip with KenyaRelief.Org in September 2009.

How and where are clinics set up?
Kenya Relief owns 60 acres of land in Migori, Kenya where they’ve established an orphanage, school and medical clinic. In addition, Kenya Relief plans to build a 300-bed medical center, which will begin construction in the fall.

When our team works at the clinic, many of us work for 20 hours, sleep for four, and get back up to work another 12 hours. It’s so hard to turn people away when you know you are their only hope, that they have walked for days to see you, and that you have traveled more than 8,000 miles to help them.

What types of services do you provide?
We provide treatment for a variety of conditions, including malaria, typhoid, HIV, diabetes, hypertension, a multitude of malignancies and penetrating bone injuries.  We treat just about any condition known to man, many times in their most extreme forms.

For our last three visits, Kenya Relief asked us to bring pediatric and adult general surgeons as well as ear, nose and throat surgeons. There are a plethora of surgical cases that our surgeons perform, such as thyroidectomy, head and neck tumor removal, cleft lip and palate repairs, tympanoplasty, mastoidectomy, scar revisions, hernia repair, hydrocelectomy, abdominal cyst and tumor removal, burn repair with skin grafting and circumcision. There are many other surgeries we can accommodate, it just depends on who walks through the door.

Why is it important for you to help others in these global communities?
The lack of healthcare affordability and access in Kenya and other developing countries is astounding. In Kenya, there are approximately 1.4 physicians per 10,000 people and only 1.6 hospital beds available per 1,000 people. There are people who are blinded by cataracts and who die unnecessarily by untreated fractures, cancers and other conditions that are easily treated in the U.S. Although there is a lack of healthcare in our country, most citizens are able to visit an emergency department and obtain treatment.

Issac received medical care from U-M Health System and Henry Ford Health System staff

Isaac, 11, was living with a penetrating bone fracture after falling from 16 feet almost a year ago. There wasn’t a surgeon capable of repairing his leg, even at the best hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, until he was treated at the Kenya Relief clinic by U-M doctors and a surgeon from Detroit Children’s Hospital.

What was the most rewarding part of last year’s trip?
One was seeing a young man whose facial tumor was removed by Dr. Lamont Jones in 2012, walk for hours to come back and visit us in September, 2013. He looked great and was doing well in college. Jones trained in his ENT (ear, nose and throat) residency at U-M.  He is now the Vice Chairman of ENT at Henry Ford.

Secondly, it was great to see 26 people from Metro Detroit, primarily employees of the University of Michigan and Henry Ford, immediately bond and function like we had worked together for years. Our “family” was able to perform 61 surgeries and treat another 450 patients in three days.

What are you looking forward to most during your upcoming trip?
Watching first-time members of our team as they realize the impact they make on these patients. It is an actual transformation for the team members and the patients we serve.

Although we pay for our own travel and use our personal vacation time for these trips, I can assure you that this is the most soul-filling experience of our lives. My teammates and I have realized that by sacrificing our time, money and talents, we are getting back so much more. To be able to help change another human being’s life and to watch our Kenyan brothers and sisters be restored to much better health by the work we do is absolutely priceless. It makes every moment of preparation worth the sacrifice.

Anything else you would like to share about KenyaRelief.org and your team’s efforts?
One man, Steve James, turned the tragedy of losing his only daughter into a multifaceted mission of helping people. KenyaRelief.org has an orphanage with 172 children, a K-6 school with 420 children, and a clinic that has medically treated more than 70,000 patients and performed more than 5,000 surgeries in its 12-year existence. They are now raising $2 million to build a 300-bed medical center that will reach up to two million people. If one man can achieve these results from inspiring other people to help, imagine what we can do when groups of ten, twenty or a hundred people come together to make a difference.

Take the next step:

  • Collect school supplies for the K-6 Kenya Relief Academy.
  • Collect medical supplies and equipment toward the 20 mission teams who volunteer with Kenya Relief each year.
  • Sponsor one the 172 total orphans who are in the Kenya Relief Orphanage for $75/month.
  • Raise money or make a donation toward phase 1 of the 300-bed Kenya Relief Medical Center that will begin construction in the fall of 2014.
  • Contact elizabethstudley@comcast.net if you are interested in becoming involved.

Elizabeth Studley, CRNA, MS, has been an anesthetist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital since 2004. She began working as an aide at UMHS in the Mott Operating rooms in 1991.

For the last six years, Studley and hundreds of her colleagues at both health systems, have organized Back 2 School and Christmas Giving projects, raising more than $30,000 a year for local, residential-based and foster care children under the direction of Wellspring Lutheran Services. Twenty-six employees at both institutions also collaborate to go on medical-surgical missions that Studley organizes twice a year.