Sharing our strength: A medical mission to Nigeria
In 2012, John Obegolu, R.N., Director of the Neuroscience Medical/Surgical Step Down Unit at Eden Medical Center approached Dr. Edie Zusman about a novel idea. John is a native of the Anambra State in southeastern Nigeria, Africa. After completing his degree programs in San Francisco, John worked for 13 years as an oncology nurse manager before assuming leadership of the neuroscience nursing team at Eden in 2011. Dr. Zusman, a neurosurgeon, is Medical Director of Neuroscience Program Development at Eden East Bay Neuroscience Institute.
“I told Dr. Zusman about the medical missions I had taken to my home country since 2007 to bring medical services to villages that had no access to care,” explained John. “She replied immediately that she wanted to help.” Dr. Zusman is an international expert on epilepsy, so they decided to focus on this disease, which is widely untreated in Africa. “Most villagers believe it is a form of witchcraft,” said John. “Epileptics are shunned by society and forbidden to marry or to even hold jobs. Many people in Africa still believe that epilepsy is the result of some crime committed by their ancestors or the result of a voodoo spell.”
In July 2013, the group arrived in Adazi-Ani: Dr. Zusman with her teenage son Adam and John Obegolu with his teenage daughter Adaora, and five neuroscience nurses who paid their own way and volunteered for two weeks. “We were funded to treat 100 patients at the RISE Clinic Nigeria Epilepsy Care Advancement Program,” explained Dr. Zusman. “The need was so great, that over 240 people with epilepsy signed up for treatment. Our patients were between the ages of one and 85.”
Medications that may reduce seizures by up to 75 percent were provided for free, and Dr. Zusman spearheaded a coalition of pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to create a sustainable program for the future. “John and I presented lectures, and did interviews on radio and television,” said Dr. Zusman. “We planted the seeds, so now the program can grow.”
“As a result of our work, many Nigerians have been empowered to speak publicly about epilepsy,” said John. “In just two weeks, we managed to implement a patient-focused approach to treatment, a concept that has eluded Nigeria for decades.” Dr. Zusman is also very proud of the extraordinary achievements of the Eden team. “We are proud of the culture of philanthropy we have at Sutter East Bay Neuroscience Institute,” she said. “What we did in Nigeria was venture philanthropy. Here at home, we depend on the support of our communities.”
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