How One Man’s Life Changing Experience Changed the Lives of Thousands
For 17 years Dr. Frank Artress was a cardiac anesthesiologist in Northern California. But at the start of the new millenium he and his wife Susan Gustafson, an educational psychologist and trained counsellor, found themselves at a crossroads and began to experience a shift in how they wanted to spend the second half of their lives. They had always loved visiting foreign lands with cultures very different from their own and breathtaking landscapes. For them Tanzania was such a place. For years they had talked about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
In July of 2002, they finally realized that dream and began a six day trek to ascend the highest peak in Africa. For five days they enjoyed their climb, but on the sixth day Frank became deathly ill from high altitude pulmonary edema. His fingers turned blue and he had difficulty breathing. ‘I was pretty sure I was going to die,’ recalls Frank. ‘Here I was, fifty years old and all they were going to be able to say about me was that I died with the most toys. And I thought, if I had a chance to do it over again, what would I do differently?’ Soon afterwards, Frank lapsed into unconsciousness, however, due to the resourcefulness of his guide, he was lowered to the foot of the mountain in time. At the hospital he was treated by an American trained doctor. ‘You’ll recover,’ the doctor reassured him, ‘You’ll just be weak for a few days.’ Then he paused. ‘You know, we really need doctors here in Tanzania a lot more than they need them in California.’
A Renewed Sense of Purpose
That remark, coupled with his feelings of regret, suddenly inspired Frank to start thinking about making a serious change. From this place, the Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME) was born. Frank and Susan returned to California, quit their jobs, sold everything, and moved to Karatu Tanzania in 2003. Their vision was to establish a hospital run by Tanzanian doctors, nurses, and technicians, that would provide health services for underserved populations in that area.
They realized early on that the only way to reach many of their patients was with a mobile clinic. ‘We started off just doing informal mobile clinics out of the back of an old Toyota pickup truck,’ reminisces Frank. Thanks to donations they were able to eventually acquire a properly outfitted vehicle. When villagers find out that Dr. Frank is holding a bush clinic, hopeful patients will sometimes walk for days to get treated. The patient to doctor ratio in some of the areas he visits is as high as 60,000 to 1.
When villagers find out that Dr. Frank is holding a bush clinic, hopeful patients will sometimes walk for days to get treated
A Right to Affordable Healthcare
At Three Hills School in Arusha Dr. Frank and his team will see 650 children and adults over three days. He works outside under the trees on rickety wooden school desks. As word gets out of his arrival, the sick start trickling in by the dozen. Due to poverty and isolation, many of these people have never seen a doctor. In many cases, for just a few dollars in medicine a child’s life can be saved from malaria, tuberculosis, or basic infection. Dr. Frank is adamant about how simple healthcare can be. ‘If somebody comes in sick you don’t have to do $10,000 worth of tests to improve the quality of their life. Often times you can give them $1.50 worth of antibiotics and absolutely change their life. In some cases save their life! It sort of goes back to all those reasons I went into medicine in the first place, and not all the bad stuff that’s become associated with it in the US. I like the person I am a lot better here.’
Susan is just as adamant, ‘Everyone, regardless of their place in life, should have access to basic quality healthcare. The sad reality is that that is not possible in so many parts of the world right now. It’s really an issue of access for people in rural locations like this. We have tried to create a model, an example, of what can be accomplished when all the variables are in place. We have an incredible team of Tanzanian healthcare providers and it has been extraordinary to watch them serve their community in a setting where they have access to what they need to be good doctors and nurses. They are making a difference everyday. Lives are being saved. Real people are walking talking and breathing because of the efforts of Tanzanians here at FAME.’
To ensure that care is accessible to everyone, the cost of services are kept within the budget of the local population. ‘Everything we’ve done here,’ explains Susan, ‘we’ve done with donor support, with the help of people an ocean away who share our vision. It has been full of challenges, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding. I feel extraordinarily blessed to be doing something that I find so gratifying. For us it’s an honor and it’s been a remarkable journey.’
In 2013, soon after the infrastructure for two operating rooms was completed, Tuttnauer’s Africa Sales Manager Ronen Blum was contacted by Dr. Frank regarding the acquisition of an autoclave for the CSSD department. Understanding Dr. Frank’s constraints, Ronen recommended Tuttnauer’s 3870M model, a high quality but relatively simple autoclave that could be up and running quickly. In addition, Ronen personally oversaw the sale, delivery, and training, instead of directing Dr. Frank through the usual channels. This enabled him to provide the autoclave at a significant discount. The operating rooms represent a huge step forward in FAME’s ability to serve seriously ill and injured patients “in-house”. This is especially meaningful given that most of these patients do not have the resources to pursue care outside their home district.
In 2013 two operating rooms were completed, dramatically increasing access to medical treatment in rural Tanzania
Tuttnauer is proud to have been a part of this important milestone and have since supplied other equipment to FAME. We are inspired by Dr. Frank’s and Susan’s vision of advancing patient-centered care in rural Africa, and look forward to helping out with any future needs.