Amid the brutal isolation and untamed wilderness of her remote town in Africa, Warren County native Kayla Griffith is saving lives.
A surgeon, Dr. Griffith has made great strides in improving the post-operation survival rate of residents in Shinyanga, one of the most rural areas of Tanzania.
“We haven’t lost a post-operative, 6-month-old in a year,” said Griffith. “Things like vital sign measurements and post-operative fluid management are becoming more of routine exercises. The seemingly insurmountable becomes surmountable.”
When Dr. Griffith arrived in Tanzania in July 2016, she was astonished to see the number of patients who died following surgery because of woeful post-op care. She recalls handing the bodies of children to weeping mothers and crying herself to sleep at night.
Entire families live in huts about the size of one bedroom of an American home. They suffer from crocodile and hippo attacks, which are usually fatal, and die daily from malaria.
Dr. Griffith, 35, describes her role in improving the medical care in Shinyanga as a “rich, rewarding experience.” She says the African people are overtly grateful for her assistance and that’s the primary force that’s pushed her through a nearly two-year stretch where she’s often felt alone.
“People can’t fathom why or how I, a foreigner, could possibly live in a such a remote place, devoid of most modern conveniences, comforts, and most of all, other foreigners,” said Griffith, who adds she’s had time for great self-reflection. “What do you do there? I get asked that a lot. How do you live there? And if I’m honest, most foreigners probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks alone in Shinyanga.
There’s not exactly an expat community and ingrained social support system. And there really isn’t much to do. I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve talked to chickens, and I’ve learned to deal with all aspects and facets of myself from one emotional pendulum swing to the next.”
Dr. Griffith is nearing the end of her medical mission in Africa. She’s decided to return to the United States where she’s taken a job with the breast oncology group at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Even after her departure, she wants her work in Africa to continue.
“I have a very interested and compassionate surgeon eager to take the baton from me, but the problem is money,” said Kayla, the daughter of Bruce and Sherry Griffith. “We’ve been making ends meet, but without additional funding, the effort to continue surgical and medical education in Shinyanga will come to an end, which is incredibly heartbreaking for me as I’ve done this mostly alone. It would be completely devastating for the area of Shinyanga.”
Dr. Griffith has started several fundraisers, which includes selling canvas prints of the photos she’s taken in Africa. She’s also started a campaign called #KiliForACause.
“My goal is $50,000 and I currently have $3,000,” she said.
Before she leaves Africa and returns to America, Griffith is going to take advantage of her unique opportunity and will be attempting a seven-day climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. She begins that trek this Sunday.
Seven days after her scheduled return, she’s planning to run the Kilimanjaro Marathon on March 4. “I’m trading physical labor for financial help,” she said.
Anyone interested in contributing by buying one of her canvas prints can do so at kaylafaithgriffith.wordpress.com/canvas.
If you’d like to donate to the #KiliForACause campaign in general, the address is kaylafaithgriffith.wordpress.com/kiliforacause.