Meet Vanina, Watsi’s first international volunteer! Vanina writes patient stories from London, and occasionally Paris. In her day job, Vanina is the head of brand for BlaBlaCar, a ridesharing platform. She’s connecting people across Europe to build awareness for this efficient, social form of transportation.
Vanina sees volunteering at Watsi as a way to, “regularly change my world view, to focus back on people, and to take a break to intentionally practice generosity. It helps me keep perspective about what’s really important in life: being useful, having compassion, and living every day to it’s fullest. It’s a precious opportunity to think about others, and to change lives on an individual level. In fact, Watsi gives me more than I give Watsi.”
When asked what she likes about volunteering, she said, “I really enjoy watching the Watsi team explore how they will best deliver on their radical mission. Their relentless pursuit of a ‘can’t be done’ goal is just bad-ass. I love it. People always say something can’t be done until it’s done for the first time, and that’s what Watsi is working on. That’s awesome, and I’m glad to be part of the awesomeness.”
Hear more from Vanina on Twitter @vaninaschick and check out our volunteer positions here.
Meet Watsi’s youngest story writing volunteer, high school senior Alice He! Alice first heard of Watsi through Innospring/TEEC Angel Fund, one of Watsi’s founding donors. She has been helping patients tell their stories nearly since Watsi’s inception.
"I think Watsi’s main aspiration and goal is very inspiring," Alice told us. "Organizations like these really make me feel like I am giving back to my community, helping out those who are less privileged."
Alice hopes to make a difference in society through a career in medicine. She loves good food, traveling, and late night star gazing with good friends. Thanks for everything, Alice!
We are excited to announce our new partnership with the Vermont based organization Borue.
Borue is an initiative led by students from the University of Vermont. Borue’s mission is simple, sell shirts and donate all funds to charity. Since Watsi’s mission is also simple, 100% of every donation funds medical care with complete transparency, the partnership made clear sense.
“There is no substitute for health,” Borue’s founder Mushtaba says. “If you have health then you have the whole world. That is why we wanted to partner with Watsi.”
Borue shirt sales have already funded successful treatments for Watsi patients like Joseph, a newborn baby boy from Kenya who no longer has to live with the developmental congenital disorder spina bifida thanks to their support.
Head over to Borue.org to buy a tee that will fund a patient on Watsi!
A cool thing happened in Tanzania last week. Our partner hospital brought a group of surgeons from the US to their community to run a surgery camp.
These camps attract people with built-up unmet needs. Many of them travel miles to make it to the hospital, but cannot afford care once they arrive.
As a result, patients like Eva are turning to the Watsi community for support. Surgeons from WOGO (Women Orthropaedist Global Outreach) are volunteering their time and talents to perform the surgeries, but we need to help them cover the cost of supplies, hospital stay, and follow up.
Meet the patients from the camp and support one of them this week to have your donation matched by Watsi!
Andrew Stinger, one of our most committed volunteers, recently told Watsi’s story to 95 of the brightest high school sophomores at the Massachusetts Youth Leadership Foundation’s Annual MassSTAR Conference.
His goal? Get them involved as individual volunteers or by starting a Watsi chapter at their school!
This week only, we’re matching donations made to patients from our medical partner Burma Border Projects. Patients like Moe Chit, pictured above, are fundraising for life-changing healthcare and need our support. So if you’ve been waiting to support a patient from Burma, now’s the time!
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra.” - H.E. Luccock
We’re excited to finally introduce you to the incredible team of volunteers who keep Watsi running behind the scenes.
Our volunteer team is a passionate group of individuals from all over the world. They’re dedicated to helping Watsi grow in any way they can — from writing patient profiles to launching Watsi chapters on their campuses to sending patient updates to donors. They’re the oil to our machine, and their skills play a huge role in making sure Watsi’s day-to-day operations line up with our big-picture vision.
Watsi is a global crowdfunding platform that enables anyone to directly fund healthcare for people around the world.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
We’re a team of developers, designers, doctors, and marketers working at Watsi because we believe that everyone, everywhere deserves access to healthcare. We move fast, take risks, and come to work every day excited about building an organization that matters more than we do.
We’re looking for a full-stack developer to join our five-person team in San Francisco. The ideal candidate is an experienced, product-focused generalist who wants to use their skills to bring healthcare to the world. Our stack is Rails, Backbone.js, SCSS, Postgres, Redis, Sidekiq, Heroku, RSpec, and Jasmine.
If you’re interested in learning more, please send whatever info you have (linkedin, github, personal site) to email@example.com.
2. When a patient comes to the hospital needing life-changing healthcare, Watsi helps them access care by sharing their story on our website and connecting them with donors who can help them pay for it.
Most patients choose to share their stories with the world. But we make sure they understand that they don’t have to share their stories to receive support from Watsi. In the event social stigma, the patient’s preference, or our ability to present the patient in a positive and dignified way prevents us from sharing their story, we privately fund their care using donations to our Universal Fund.
3. The hospital works with the patient to submit their story to Watsi. As soon as Watsi approves the patient, the hospital begins arranging treatment.
6. Donors receive an update on the patient they supported.
Updates are sent straight to donors’ inboxes and can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to arrive, depending on the patient’s treatment timeline. (Sometimes they take longer, but we do our best to get donors updates as quickly as possible!)
Watsi is looking for a senior full-stack engineer to join our six-person team in San Francisco. The ideal candidate is an experienced generalist, product-focused, and excited about using their skills to bring healthcare to the world.
If you’re interested in applying / learning more, please send whatever info you have (linkedin, github, and/or personal site) to chase at watsi.org.
Two of the Supercell founders make donation to take Watsi to the next level
We’ve looked up to Supercell, a Finnish mobile game-maker, since they won “Founders of the Year” at Founders Forum last year.
Ilkka Paananen, Supercell CEO, said something about culture that day that we’ll never forget. That, “the definition of great culture is that most people hate it, but a small group of people love it.” Supercell’s approach to running a company, not to mention their meteoric growth, have inspired our team ever since.
Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Ilkka and one of the other six Supercell co-founders, Mikko Kodisoja, are making a generous donation to Watsi’s operations. After watching them be part of the team that has grown Supercell from a small startup to a three billion dollar company, we can’t wait to have their help and mentorship as we take Watsi to the next level.
We’re excited to announce a big change. After careful consideration and consulting from our advisory board, we decided that updating the color of our logo would help us better represent our core values. We appreciate your support, and look forward to making you proud with our new look.
Just kidding — a multi-billion dollar health insurance company threatened to oppose our trademark application and asked us to change the color of our logo.
We have to retire our blue logo by the end of March. But first, we’re going to have a little fun. For three days only, we’re selling limited edition blue logo Watsi tees and dedicating 100% of the profits to patients on Watsi.
On the deadline of March 31st, you’re invited to a bonfire[UPDATE: Bonfire postponed due to weather!] at Ocean Beach in San Francisco to bid farewell to all evidence of our blue logo. In the event you posses blue contraband after that date, we recommend wearing it inside out to prevent any further legal action ;)
From Nairobi, Port au Prince, and Santiago to Chicago
Students in 826 Chicago's famous creative writing program are now writing Watsi patient profiles in their workshops!
Joining the 100+ remote writing volunteers who help us tell patient stories to the world, 826CHI’s students spent the weekend taking patient profiles submitted by Watsi partners in places like Kenya, Haiti, and Guatemala, and creating descriptions of them that will go on our website.
"I have the wonderful first world benefit of insurance, a good job led by supportive people, a husband who makes enough to give me the room to take care of myself," Cecelia told us. "In short, I’m rich beyond measure compared to almost everyone else in the world. I have so much to be grateful for."
Cecelia became a two-time cancer survivor. But she was at a loss for how to help other people overcome similar challenges.
"Every day I get piles and piles and piles of mail from nonprofits looking for money. I don’t blame them. I know times are tough. I’ve worked for nonprofits before and I know how things work. But it hasn’t stopped my becoming inured to the pleas. It’s like walking down a street with hundreds of hands in my way and I’ve started to feel resentful. Because of my experience, I know that the mailers I’m getting cost money, and that some of these organizations are only passing a small percentage of the donations they receive to the actual people they’re purporting to help. That’s just not right."
Then, Cecelia heard about Watsi.
"And along comes Watsi, allowing me to donate directly to someone in need. And there she is. A 60-year-old woman facing cancer and the debilitating treatments on her own, without all my resources. And all my money goes to her treatment. Allelujah!”
Our entire team is inspired by Cecelia’s story. Help her spread the health by supporting a patient on Watsi.
A phone conversation with a friend of a friend in Philadelphia changed the way that we can help people in Haiti, but it all started when a young American man on a bus in Costa Rica changed healthcare all over the world.
I watched Daniel, a skinny 15-year-old, get sicker with each passing week, unsure how to help him. Every time that he visited the hospital, the tumor on his neck had grown. His mother had come from six hours away in the north of the country to seek care from Project Medishare’s hospital in Port-au-Prince. I noticed him waiting in line for the plastic surgery clinic and pulled him aside, sure that his problem could not simply be corrected by a scalpel. A biopsy showed a rare type of throat cancer; bad luck had made him sick and poverty prevented his doting mother from obtaining care for him sooner.
Since it had not yet spread to his lungs or liver, Daniel’s cancer was still curable. The cure required radiation therapy that is only available in the Dominican Republic and costs $1500 per patient. The youngest of seven children, Daniel’s family could barely afford to send him to school let alone pay for the radiation that would save his life.
I searched around to find partners to help pay for his treatment. Partners in Health offered to pay for his radiation treatment, but this was only part of the treatment cost. Passports, Dominican visas, bus tickets, and food for six weeks added up to another $1500. I reached into my pocket to pay for the remainder, determined to not let him down. Then I stood in line with Daniel and his mother outside the Dominican embassy in Port-au-Prince, jumping up and down, shaking my stethoscope until we were permitted entrance (see the blog “Oz”).
Finally, Daniel was off to radiation and, with some luck, a life-saving cure. I could probably find the money for one child like Daniel every few months, but what about the scores of other young patients with curable cancers? How would we handle the deluge of cases?
Another woman in her early 50s came to our program and asked for help financing radiation treatment for her advanced cervical cancer. In the U.S., her stage of cervical cancer has more than an 80% survival rate, but in Haiti, for those who can’t afford it, the survival rate drops to zero. Marie represented another statistic in the battle against preventable and treatable cancers in developing countries. She had children who cared for her and her small business selling clothing on the street was placed on hold as she grew more fatigued with the constant blood loss from the cervical cancer.
Soon after, another young woman with advanced cervical cancer asked for our help, and the writing was on the wall — find a way to help Marie and patients like her or watch them all die.
Between her family contribution and the Haitian Support Group Against Cancer, Marie had two-thirds of the money for the radiation therapy. She only needed $500 more to travel to the Dominican Republic. I could easily reach into my own pocket for Marie as well, but where does the individual charity stop? In East Africa, there exists a saying that if you help nine poor people then you will become the tenth. The axiom isn’t anti-charity, it merely points out the magnitude of poverty around the world.
I looked through the program’s finances. Our resources would quickly become depleted if we were to enter into the business of cervical cancer but cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women in Haiti and no effective program exists to screen for and treat early stages of the disease. Not only would we run out of money quickly, but the goal of providing women with breast cancer access to first-rate treatment would be seriously diluted. We simply couldn’t do it.
“We’ll see what we can do,” I said to Marie, my words ringing hollow in my own head. Not quite a lie because I spent a large portion of the day scouring the internet for sources of funding — searching for foundational and research grants and fundraising via Twitter and the blog. I’ve learned to never say “No” because the landscape is constantly shifting and opportunities arise out of the remotest of circumstances, the smallest of gestures. Nonetheless, I turned Marie away for the time being and left her to continue her search.
“Have you heard of Watsi?” a friend of my cousin asked me over the phone. I called him to talk about Haiti as a courtesy to my cousin, but I had no idea how much he would change the course of our work in Haiti. “An article in the New York Times explained how they’re using crowd-sourcing like Kickstarter or Indiegogo as a force for fundraising for healthcare in developing countries. You should check them out.”
Innovative funding mechanisms like Watsi have allowed a small scale program like ours at Project Medishare to treat individual patients with funds from anonymous donors around the world. Potential donors can read about a patient’s story and see their photograph and have the ability to connect with them on a human level. Rather than donate money to a large non-profit with heavy overhead expenses, individuals can connect with patients, real human beings in need, on four continents.
More than just donating to a cause, people can connect with the patient that they identify with most: a pregnant woman in need of a safe delivery, a baby with a cleft lip in need of corrective surgery or a young mother with a small business and cervical cancer in Haiti. Since Project Medishare’s mission is to fill the gaps in the healthcare needs of the people that we serve in Haiti, partnering with Watsi made perfect sense.
We initially gathered funding to treat cancer patients like Daniel, but soon expanded to our other groups of core patients: children with hydrocephalus, clef lips/palate or other birth defects. Donors give an average of $30 each, but the small amounts add up to fund definitive treatments for those in need.
With the patient’s explicit permission, we posted Daniel and Marie’s cases, appealing for help from the internet. Daniel’s $1500 funded in two days and Marie’s in less than a week. We had found a way to expand the reach of the program, to never have to say no.
Watsi started when Chase Adam, a Peace Corps volunteer, conjured up the idea while on a bus in Costa Rica. From there Watsi blossomed and keeps growing in size, adding new partners like Project Medishare in the meantime. We’re grateful to Watsi for bringing us along for the ride and eternally grateful to the kind souls who help us to treat patients $30 at a time. Marie completed her treatment and Daniel is just finishing up now and you can follow their progress on Watsi. The patients will never meet the donors who helped them but the donors already know them.
Dan heads up Medical Operations at Watsi. Before joining Watsi, Dan worked at Palantir Technologies tackling problems around the world in Health Claims Fraud, Biosecurity, Global Health, and Disaster Response. He holds a degree in Molecular Genetics from The Ohio State University and is a 4th year medical student on leave from Dartmouth Medical School.
We’re excited to announce that Humble Bundle, a startup that lets anyone pay what they want for video games and support charity online, has made a $1.5M donation to fund medical care for Watsi patients.
This donation from Humble Bundle and its army of charitable gamers puts our total raised for patients at $2.2 million.
We’re growing fast, and we’re thrilled to share that Daniel Tse, a Palantir health engineer and one of the most brilliant people we’ve ever met, is joining our team to scale our medical program around the world.
It’s awesome to see Silicon Valley’s most talented people and companies chase meaning as well as money. They’re proving that making a lasting impact with your work is not only good for business, but good for the world.
We’re excited to announce that you can now donate in someone else’s name on Watsi! Our team has been dedicating donations nonstop since we launched the feature, and we figured it was time to let you in on the fun :)
When you dedicate a Watsi donation, the recipient will receive an email notifying them of your gift, as well as updates on the patient you funded in their honor.
We teamed up with Goldbely to bring you the best holiday gift of all time!
Buying holiday gifts is one of those things that tends to get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. So we decided to make it easy.
We teamed up with Goldbely to bring you an awesome holiday gift package for your friends, family, and colleagues. For $50/person, we’ll send you a handpicked gift box of top Goldbely desserts, a Watsi donation certificate, and a blank card for you to personalize, all wrapped like you did it yourself.
It only takes 2 minutes to cross gifts off your to-do list. Order by 12/1/2013 so we can deliver them by 12/16/2013: http://watsibely.com/
If you’ve been on Watsi lately, you’ve probably noticed a bunch of smiley kids in green shirts on our patients page.
These kids traveled such long distances to seek medical care at our partner hospital in Tanzania that they needed somewhere to stay while they waited for treatment and recovered from surgery (going home between scheduling and follow up appointments wasn’t an option). The green shirts were given to them by Plaster House, the organization that’s housing them while they receive care.
Let’s get these kids funded so they can go home healthy!
This is a guest post by Sarah Mwangi, the Kenyan coordinator at one of our Medical Partners, African Mission Healthcare Foundation. Sarah is responsible for identifying patients at AMHF’s hospitals and walking them through the Watsi process. She’s made it possible for more than 240 people in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia to access medical care funded by Watsi donors.
It’s Monday Morning. Yeah. Those Monday mornings that need all the will in the world just to open your eyes, drag yourself out of bed, get showered and dressed. Then off to work.
Yeah. Work. Where is that holiday when you need it?! Leaders at the ICC, internal politics, terrorist attacks…Yeah, I definitely need a holiday.
I grab my mug of coffee and head out, still trying to convince myself that there are tons of reasons to be cheerful this Monday morning.
Monday. My most challenging day of the week. And yet somehow, God still manages to surprise me.
When I get to my desk, I decide to finish some filing then start going through profiles from our different partners to hand in to Watsi.
Then, Monday instantly changes for me.
“My wish is to one day go to school and later on work in an office as an accountant. I know I can do more with my hands.”
I look at the picture of the girl who said this to our Watsi representative in Tanzania. She is only 12 years old. Abandoned by her parents when she was only 9 and now under the care of her grandmother.
My eyes tear. I read the sentence about her wishes and her dreams over and over. It doesn’t help though because the tears now can’t be stopped. What will my boss say?!
I pretend that there’s something in my eye as I gaze upon her photo. Her smile is so bright. I try to imagine what her childhood was like. How it must feel to be abandoned by her parents, especially in this African context. And now: she has been living with contractures from a burn that make it difficult for her to go to school.
As I type in her story to submit to Watsi, I think of all the people who make sacrifices, when they get onto the Watsi website, just to help people like Agness. I wonder if they know just how much they are making a difference in peoples’ lives; if they know that every penny they contribute reaches these beautiful people.
In the midst of reading stories like Agness’, wiping my tears and typing away, I forget that it’s Monday. I forget how slow Mondays can be; how mundane; how insane. Somehow my Monday is made worth it.
Our approach to patient privacy is simple, we treat every patient how we would like to be treated.
Because we rely on our Medical Partners to submit patient information, we spend a lot of time working with them to ensure patients’ rights are protected in the following three categories:
We believe Watsi patients should own their own information. Everything from the content they share on Watsi, to their photo, to the ability to remove their profile at any time is controlled by them.
Because most Watsi patients aren’t computer literate, we rely on our Medical Partners to upload information on their behalf. We work with our Medical Partners to ensure that they explain Watsi to every patient in a way that makes sense given their local context. Additionally, every patient must sign a clear waiver in their local language affirming their understanding of the program before we accept their profile.
It is incredibly important to us that every patient decide for themselves whether or not they want to participate in the Watsi program. For patients who wish to remain anonymous, we offer alternative sources of funding via our Universal Fund. This ensures that no patient is ever forced to decide between receiving medical care and sharing their story with the world.
Like most things at Watsi, our privacy policies are a work in progress, and we will continue to update them based on feedback from our patients and Medical Partners. And as always, we’d love your input as well.
We're looking for an awesome volunteer to join us in SF!
We’re looking for a talented writer and tech-savvy operations person to join our team for a one-month, project-based volunteer role (with potential for extension into a longer-term position) in our San Francisco office.
You’ll jump straight into the heart and soul of Watsi: patient treatment and update stories. This will be a one-month intensive on processing a recent influx of patient profiles and updates, curating them, and sharing them with donors using our internal system.
This is a volunteer gig, but we’ll gladly provide a killer reference, shower you with great karma, and potentially extend your position (if you’re interested) for a job well done.
Thomas is Watsi’s lead engineer. He’s worked at New Relic, Pivotal Labs and on Pivotal Tracker in the past, always as a hybrid engineer, designer, and product manager. Thomas is all about making things that work well by understanding people and where they come from. He attended Dartmouth College for two years, as well as the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway.
Friday5 participants chip in $5 each to fund Zablon's medical care
Friday5 is a startup helping people skip to the best part of giving to charity - finding out what great stuff their money did!
Each week, Friday5 participants contribute $5 each to fund a great cause. This week, they’ve put together $1,000 to fully fund medical care for Zablon (above), a four-year-old boy from kenya who needs surgery to walk again.
Sometimes we receive a patient update so amazing we can't help but share.
Pedro (featured above) lost his right arm in a fireworks accident when he was nine years old. Overnight, things like eating, getting dressed, and writing became a struggle.
A month after Watsi donors funded Pedro’s prosthetic arm, we received the above photo from the medical partners in Guatemala that provided his care, Wuqu’ Kawoq and Bump, showing Pedro’s mom admiring his new-found writing ability.
This update had our entire team crowded around a monitor smiling in awe of the Watsi community. Thank you for helping to rewrite the future for patients like Pedro.
EA donates proceeds of massive Humble Bundle to Watsi
Humble Bundle (one of our favorite companies) lets people pay what they want for bundles of video games and divide their payment between game developers, charities, and Humble Bundle however they see fit.
Netta leads design at Watsi. Before joining the team, she held roles at companies like Rdio, Square, Modcloth, and many moons ago, MySpace. She’s been making things for as long as she can remember, and today, is vehement about creating delightful user experiences. Netta holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communications and Marketing from Westwood College in Los Angeles, which she acquired a year earlier than planned.
Stories of three Watsi donors, filmed by Bokeh Pictures
Bokeh Pictures is a full-service film and video production studio founded by a team of creative professionals from Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple.
They enthusiastically donated their time and expertise to produce a 100% pro-bono video about why donors use Watsi.
Bokeh’s wildly talented crew captured the stories of three Watsi donors - Nadia, Sam, and Ana - on film. Watch the video to find out why they Watsi.
We are so grateful to Gather Restaurant in Berkeley for letting us take over their beautiful space (above), our friend and supporter Tabreez Verjee for graciously opening his office to us, and the Ghilardi Family for sharing their home (complete with coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches) with the Watsi and Bokeh teams.
Huge thanks also to Nadia Brunner-Velasquez, Sam Chaudhary, and Ana Maria Kelley for letting us film your stories, and to the dozens of our friends who came out to be extras in the video.
We dropped everything for Watsi. We quit our jobs, moved across the country, and worked hundred-hour weeks to prove that by connecting people, we could change the future of healthcare.
Three months ago, we had the opportunity to pitch Watsi to the titans of Silicon Valley at Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Today, we’re excited to announce that 14 of the world’s most innovative philanthropists have contributed $1.2 million in donations to fund Watsi’s operations.
Watsi’s founding donors include:
Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator.
Tencent, a company that fosters the development of service platforms and technologies to enrich the lives of internet users.
Y Combinator, the preeminent startup accelerator in Silicon Valley.
Ron Conway, the godfather of angel investing and one of the first investors in Google.
Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and an iconic venture capitalist.
Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, the venture philanthropy fund that seeded Kiva.
Joe Greenstein, the founder of Flixster and CEO of Rotten Tomatoes.
Eric Wu, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor.
Geoff Ralston, a partner at Y Combinator and founder of Yahoo! Mail.
Uprising, soon to be rising.
Jasmine Social Investments, a global social investment fund.
InnoSpring/TEEC Angel Fund, a global seed fund focusing on disruptive technology.
Michael Sidgmore, Director of Institutional Investments at Mosaic and founder of NextGenEngage.
Tabreez Verjee, a serial entrepreneur, investor, and seven-year Kiva board member.
100% of every donation on our website funds medical treatment. This round of funding will support our operations as we work toward financial sustainability, and will enable us to focus exclusively on our mission to fund medical care for people around the world.
Our team’s minds have been blown by the support we’ve received from people around the world. It’s because of all of you that Watsi has come this far. Now, we need your help to turn this $1.2 million into a movement that funds medical care for millions of people in need.
Microsoft, Parallels, and Swish team up to raise $13,575 for Watsi, funding medical care for 19 people
19 people will be receiving much needed medical care, thanks to a partnership between Microsoft, Parallels, and Swish. Earlier this year, Microsoft launched its Windows 8 Quickstart kit for iOS developers. The kit enables developers to test their web apps on Internet Explorer 10 and Windows 8 using their Macs with Parallels Desktop 8.
Microsoft placed 1,000 of the kits up for pre-order on Swish and asked developers to donate $25 to Watsi (or two of our favorite other non-profits, Code.org and Khan Academy) to secure a Quickstarter kit.
The kits sold out in a matter of hours, raising $13,575 for Watsi patients.
We’re so grateful for the support of the modern.IE team at Microsoft, as well as the teams at Swish and Parallels. Thanks for making Watsi patients the beneficiaries of this awesome campaign!
This is a guest post by Jon Fielder, the CEO of one of our medical partners, African Mission Healthcare Foundation. Jon’s leadership has made it possible for Watsi donors to fund medical care for more than 120 AMHF patients in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
In Malawi, where Jon lives, AMHF patients are still waiting for access to surgical services.
June 15th, 2013
I hated being in this position.
A young HIV-infected man came to our hospital in Malawi because of an abscess on his back. Actually, the abscess had been “incised and drained” the week prior at another hospital. The health workers there had “closed” the wound; that is, they had shut it tight with stitches, sewing up the entire incision.
Infected wounds should not be closed. It’s just basic medicine. The wound must be left open to drain and requires daily cleaning and “packing” with sterile gauze. This instance was not the first time I had witnessed this mistake.
The infected material had been locked inside the young man’s back. Since it couldn’t go up and out, it went down and in—into the blood. From there the bacteria circulated around the body, causing kidney damage along the way, and landed in the ankle joint.
My colleague had removed the stitches on the back. I lengthened the incision, irrigated with saline, and packed the space tightly with clean gauze.
There are two important points to mention here.
Firstly, I am an internist, not a surgeon. Although I perform lumbar punctures, most deep cutting and sewing is best left to someone else. Still, I am often pressed into service for lack of an alternative. Recently I drained TB-laden fluid from around a young man’s heart.
Secondly, because of donations, our hospital is usually well-stocked with basics such as gloves, cotton, gauze, saline and medicine. Most Malawian clinics lack even these basic necessities.
While holding the patient’s legs, the brother pointed out the ankle or “zotupa,” was swelling. An inserted needle yielded infected material. I groaned. It was already late. This abscess would also need to be opened. By me. Right now. If it were left to fester, the bacteria would again simply dive back into the body and pop up somewhere else. Medicines alone cannot penetrate into such dense infected tissue.
In fact, this “abscess” appeared to be within the joint, requiring me to pierce the thickened, inflamed joint capsule, remove the infected material, irrigate, and pack. I had actually never done this procedure before with a scalpel. That night it was just me and a nursing assistant, doing the best we could.
The next morning, the client was better, but still far from being out of the woods. The kidney failure could kill him. If there was un-drained infection deep in the tissue, that could also end his life. If we could pull him through this illness, he realistically has a chance to live decades given the antiretroviral drugs now available.
I have two roles. The first is as a doctor in a nation of 15 million people which might have 250 physicians seeing patients on a daily basis. In this country, there are very few trained surgeons. It’s even difficult finding a place to perform an appendectomy, much less proper drainage of an abscess in an HIV-infected client. Anyone who can afford to gets on a plane for somewhere else.
My second role is CEO of the African Mission Healthcare Foundation, one of the Watsi medical partners. AMHF represents a number of mission hospitals with strong surgical programs. None of those are in Malawi.
So, I get to see poor patients with both basic and complex surgical conditions receive quality care in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia thanks to the generosity of Watsi donors.
But while in Malawi, I just have to wait, hope, and pray that quality surgical options will someday be readily accessible to the people of the country where I actually live and work.
What is Watsi? Our friends at Skyscope Creative helped us film the story.
Skyscope Creative is a video production agency that helps innovative leaders tell their stories.
We spent a sunny afternoon filming with Skyscope at Dolores Park in San Francisco. We were blown away by how awesome they were. Not only did they donate their time to capture Watsi’s story on film and edit it into this video, but they were genuinely fun to work with. Check out more of Skyscope’s work on their website.
We use Rails, Slim, SASS, and Angular.js, hosted on Heroku, to raise money for people that can’t afford the medical care they need. If you’re familiar with these technologies and want to join a passionate team that’s working to change the world, please send your portfolio/github/resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Lisa Wiseman for taking awesome photos of the Watsi team!
Lisa Wiseman is an incredibly talented photographer who generously donated her time and talents to capturing photos of the Watsi team during Y Combinator.
Being photographed by Lisa is like spending time with a good friend. When we saw the results of our goofy afternoon with her, we were blown away by her work. We highly recommend snatching her up if you have the chance!