By Nathan Cook, DO- There are not many times that I feel that you desire medical stories and testimonies of my days in medicine here at Kijabe. In fact, most of you who read our blog are not “medical” at all and I fear you would find these stories boring or confusing. But some stories need to be told, especially when there is nothing “medical” to explain what happened.
Meet Baby Peter…
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Peter is only a few days old and unfortunately, his blood has not mixed well with his mom’s blood, causing a lot of red blood cells to explode in his body. This produces a pigment called bilirubin and leads to yellowness of the skin and eyes, otherwise known as jaundice. If you are a parent, you have likely seen this, as some degree of jaundice happens in almost all newborn babies. Most of the time it never gets bad enough to cause a problem, but in some cases, it can. If jaundice is not treated fast enough, it can lead to a condition called kernicterus, where the bilirubin goes into the brain and “stains” it, leading to severe developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and sometimes death. We can usually treat these more severe cases with phototherapy and fluids or feeding, as you can see in the picture that we did for Peter. But sometimes, we have to perform a very dangerous procedure called an exchange transfusion, where we replace the baby’s blood with donated blood that does not contain bilirubin. With good pediatric care, close follow-up, and early treatment, exchange transfusions for jaundice have become less frequent, even rare, in higher-income countries. Unfortunately, we do way too many here in Kijabe.
Peter needed an exchange transfusion overnight Friday with blood donated by my colleagues. If you are medical, you know that an exchange transfusion is a long, tedious procedure requiring complete attention that is dreaded by all – baby, parents, nurses, doctors – everyone. It is very rare to have to repeat an exchange transfusion on the same baby. Unfortunately, within six hours of completing this exchange, Peter’s bilirubin had risen 11 points and was again dangerously high, so we prepared to go again. We met complication after complication – no available blood, central line repeatedly failed to draw Peter’s blood, Peter’s heart dangerously slowed – so many things that delayed the procedure for hours. I continually processed what this delay meant for Peter and feared that his brain would be forever changed, if he survived.
Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.
At Kijabe, we see many deaths and much long-term devastation, simply because we live and work in a low-income country – parents can’t access medical care or they delay in getting it, there is a lack of medicine or tools or there is illness so severe it can’t be helped. But knowing that I have every tool and medicine and the knowledge I need to be able to help my patient and still not being able to do it, cuts me to the core. Why was this happening? We tried to help him. Over and over we tried, but nothing worked. I stood there knowing that Peter was dying, his brain forever being changed and nothing I could do was working. Nothing was going my way, Peter’s way.
He will rejoice over you with singing
I prayed. For ten hours, I prayed. And prayed. I prayed with doctors…with nurses…with his parents. I put my hand on his head and whispered pleas to God to intervene. We didn’t stop trying. For more than ten hours we did everything medically possible to perform the exchange transfusion.
On Saturday, God reminded me that despite medicine, knowledge, skills, etc., He is still in control. As Peter waited, waiting without treatment – his bilirubin fell. It had risen so fast, but suddenly, it fell. Unexplainable. This boy should have been devastated, but instead he was well on his way to recovering before I even began treatment.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
1 John 3:1
I frequently rely on my own knowledge, skills and medicine – failing to bring God into my work, my life. We walk through life in fear. Fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of what life will bring us. This time though, I knew. I knew that without God, without prayer, Peter was not going to do well. I knew it was going to take His intervening to change the outcome this time, as my attempts failed over and over again. But I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t surprised. I have seen it before. And I testify to it. This week, I have testified loudly – making sure that everyone knows Peter is alive and healing, only by a miracle of God. I am no longer a slave to fear.
Peter is a child of God.
- Dr. Cook is a MedSend pediatrician who serves at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. This article is re-posted from the Cook family’s blog.