From Death to Life


“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.'”  John 11:25

By MedSend physician Elizabeth Elliott, MD

It was the worst single day of obstetrics that I have ever experienced. Just about every complication of pregnancy that I know was in my little jungle maternity ward that day. We had preterm labor, bleeding patients, high blood pressure and seizures, and the list goes on. It wasn’t a question of who needed surgery, it was a question of who would die first without surgery.

I’d already finished three emergency surgeries when I returned to the maternity ward to find two women in need of surgery. One was in labor, but the baby wasn’t doing well, and she needed a C-section. The other was in danger of losing her life to an infection caused by an abortion provoked by a local shaman. I decided to do the C-section before the D+C because in that case, two lives were in danger.

As we were rolling the patient out the door, another woman arrived looking deathly ill. I heard the midwives questioning her family as I continued moving toward the OR. I heard words that struck terror in my heart: “sickle cell.” Until I arrived in 2014, our hospital had a 50% mortality rate for pregnant patients with sickle cell. I called out for them to check a blood count and come find me in the OR.

We had just pulled the baby out of the first patient, when the midwife came bursting through the doors of the operating room. She announced that the sickle cell patient’s blood count was 9% (a quarter of what it should have been.) I ordered them to bring her to the next operating room. As soon as the uterus was closed on the first patient, I abandoned the resident to finish closing and ran down the hall to the next room.

I could see from the door that the patient was dead, and a quick check for a pulse confirmed my suspicion. I grabbed a scalpel and cut, hoping to save the child, as I ordered someone else to start chest compressions. Thankfully, news had spread through the hospital and help began to appear. Another physician arrived to resuscitate the newborn, and another resident appeared to help with the surgery.

It was obvious to all of us that our only hope lay in a transfusion. Unfortunately, a quick survey of the room revealed that I was the only one with a matching blood type. Once again, as soon as the uterus was closed, I abandoned the poor resident to finish closing, ordered the team to keep up the resuscitation efforts on the mother and took off running.

This time, I ran down to the lab. I found a lab tech, and she quickly collected a pint of my blood. Fresh, warm blood in hand, I ran back up the hill to the OR. There I handed my blood to the nurse, and sat down right in the middle of the floor about to pass out. We all watched as my blood flowed into that woman’s veins and stood amazed as her heart began beating again. It’s just like the Good Book says, the life is indeed in the blood.

The next day, as I made rounds, that sickle cell patient was sitting up and talking to me. She said “Doctor, I remember coming to the hospital yesterday, but I can’t remember anything after that, can you tell me what happened?” I said, “You died and God raised you to life again, have you given your life to Jesus Christ?” She said, “No, I haven’t, but I will now.” So one day her life was saved and the next, her soul was as well.

Elliott - infant copy

Dr. Elizabeth Elliott, MD (left, and at center in photo above), is a MedSend physician who directs the maternity department of a mission hospital in Gabon – and is the only physician with obstetrical training within an eight-hour drive of the hospital. She oversees prenatal care and deliveries, assists in a clinic, and trains midwives. In this area steeped in witchcraft, traditions like the ritual of the twins – where one twin is killed at or shortly after birth because twins are believed to share a soul – cause needless pain and suffering. Dr. Elliott’s MedSend grant makes it possible for her to bring desperately needed healthcare and the light and love of Christ into this area.


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