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Xavier Magazine | November 22, 2014

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Helping Hands

Helping Hands
By France Griggs Sloat

Lauren Meisman’s worst day was spent digging tiny bugs from the feet of crying children. All she had were a few razor blades and dirty water, because Kenyan health workers forgot to bring supplies. On her best day, an HIV-positive mother, who had nearly died in childbirth, left the hospital alive, her babies in her arms.

This, Meisman learned, is Africa—an Africa she learned to love, despite its frustrations, its suffering and the randomness of events.

Graduating in 2008 with degrees in radiologic technology and liberal arts, Meisman was an X-ray technician at a Cincinnati hospital. But her mind kept returning to the semester she’d spent in Ghana, Africa, where she felt her medical skills could go much further. She contacted the Catholic Medical Mission Board and was sent to a mission hospital in Karungu, Kenya. For the next year she helped deliver babies, treated wounds and interacted with the villagers. Most devastating was the high death rate—babies of starvation, 20-year-olds of HIV infection. One patient died of a bowel obstruction while she processed his X-rays.

But Meisman also learned a lot about herself and her faith.

“Nothing can prepare you to see a baby die of starvation,” she says. “But I learned to find hope out of all the despair. There were days I thought I wasn’t doing anything, and then to know I’d helped one person made me feel like I’d failed a little less. Our patients are often half dead when they come to the hospital.”

Then there were the miracles, like the young mother whose twins were delivered by C-section. By evening, she was in a coma, and Meisman did something extraordinary: She helped the babies nurse from their unconscious mother. To her surprise, the mother survived the night. Two days later she opened her eyes and the next day was alert and talking.

“I saw her a few months later walking down the street, and she said both babies were still alive and she was doing well,” Meisman says. “That made it all worth it.”

Now home, Meisman is studying for her nursing degree so she can go back to Africa with even better skills. “I feel I can do anything now,” she says.

Read Meisman’s blog at laurenmeisman.blogspot.com.

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