"I’m not a surgeon" - Guest post from Malawi

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

Lilongwe, Malawi

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.

Join our team and travel with us to Nepal!


Watsi is growing and we’re looking for a full-stack developer with significant experience writing Javascript web applications. We’re a fast-moving team based in San Francisco that is mission and metrics driven.

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 hello@watsi.org.

More about us:

New York Times: http://nyti.ms/11eV3Dp

Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/WxPBHB

Techcrunch: http://tcrn.ch/Z9U9Ji

Photo by Lisa Wiseman.

12 patients funded by “Make Something People Want” poster!


Our friends at Alvy Brooks created a beautiful, limited-edition poster featuring Y Combinator’s motto and committed 100% of the profits to Watsi patients.


The result: $10,530 raised to fund ife-changing medical care for 12 patients in 7 countries.

Thank you to Alvy Brooks and everyone who bought a poster for making this possible!

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!

Check out more of Lisa’s work on her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Watsi and Coinstar are teaming up to make change with change!


Starting today and during the entire month of July, you can donate your change to patients on Watsi via a Coinstar machine near you.

It’s super easy:


When you’re done, send a photo of yourself, your kids, or your friends donating change to patients on Watsi to connect@watsi.org and we’ll post the best ones on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to Change Making Change for making this possible!

Questions? Need help? Email connect@watsi.org.

Far From Ordinary: Guest post from Kenya

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 and walking them through the Watsi process. She’s made it possible for more than 100 people in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia to access medical care funded by Watsi donors.
Every day I get the opportunity to experience firsthand what Watsi is really doing. I see it when chronic wounds heal. I hear it in the words of grateful parents. I feel it in the tears of mothers who are extremely overwhelmed.
It’s Monday morning. I pick up the telephone to make one of my usual routine calls in Kiswahili. 
“Hello, Beatrice? My name is Sarah and I’m calling you from Kijabe Hospital. I am calling to let you know that your mother, Esther, will be discharged tomorrow. I also wanted to ask if you could come early so that I can make sure you are cleared by the accounts office without being asked for money.” 


“Hello, Beatrice, are you there?”

In her local dialect, Beatrice starts to cry out.

“Beatrice, is everything okay? Your mother’s surgery went well. There is no need to be upset.”

Finally, she speaks.

“I’m sorry Sarah. I just can’t believe it. Are you saying that when I come to hospital tomorrow, I will not have to pay a single cent towards the cost of this surgery?”

“Yes. You just need to ensure that you call me when you get here so that I can take you through the process.”

She cries out again.

“Sarah, I am in total disbelief. I have dreamed about this day for ages but we have been at such a bad place for such a long time. Dreams are the only thing my family and I can afford. What can I ever do to repay you?”

“I am just the messenger! I will pass on your gratitude to those who have helped you.”

“Please make sure you do. Make sure you tell them that we are overwhelmed; that we are extremely grateful and that we can only pray for heaps of blessings upon them.”

“I will, Beatrice. See you tomorrow then. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Sarah. Thank you.”

I sit at my desk and go over the conversation in my mind. Instantly, I’m aware that my ‘routine’ phone calls, in reality, are far from routine.

Watsi is changing lives.

Happy Arbitrary Day!

In honor of the best made-up holiday in existence, Redditors have collectively funded 21 medical treatments on Watsi. 


But they didn’t stop at funding life-changing medical care. Check out the awesome gifts they’re sending each other.

What could be better than a day dedicated to sending strangers gifts for no other reason than it makes everyone happy?

We won the White House Champions of Change Award!


Obama couldn’t make it to the ceremony, but that didn’t keep our advisor, Eric Wu (featured left above), from photoshopping him into the photo.

We accepted this award on your behalf. In nine short months, you and the rest of our founding donors have built Watsi into a movement that’s funded medical care for more than 400 people.


Learn more about the award, read our blog post on the White House website, and watch the video of our Champions of Change panel discussion. If Obama had been there, we’re sure he would have said one thing: “This is only the beginning.”

Keep on spreading the health!

We’re teaming up with Reddit to fund medical treatments this Arbitrary Day!

Starting today, Redditors from around the world are funding life-changing medical treatments in honor of Arbitrary Day.


Arbitrary Day is Reddit Gifts made-up holiday. Arbitrary Day has one mission: to match strangers in an online gift exchange for no other reason than to make everybody happy.

Watsi <3s Reddit, and we were honored when the founders of Reddit Gifts said they wanted to put the power of the Internet behind a good cause and make an even bigger impact this Arbitrary Day.

Let’s see what these Redditors can do!