Sudan volunteers save malnourished babies

News and Press Release
Originally published
The babies' bodies begin to shut down. One-year-old Adam and 18-month-old Gisma are wracked by malnutrition -- a condition all too common in war-torn Sudan . Adam suffers from malaria and acute diarrhea. His thin, papery skin clings to his tiny body, making him look like a little old man.

When their mothers bring Adam and Gisma to a clinic staffed by our volunteers, the two babies are near death. Dr. Mike Pendleton, a physician from Hood River, Ore., and Tim Gates, a paramedic and medical services officer from Kingston, Wash., give them formula and show the moms how to use a syringe to feed their children. The formula replaces a sorghum, milk and sugar mixture typically fed to infants in this region when it's available, but not lately.

The Northwest Medical Teams volunteers return to the village of UmTagouk three days later, but the babies are still very sick. Their mothers have used all the formula, and the babies have only a little sweetened milk to drink.

Pendleton examines the babies again. He is afraid that help may come too late, especially for Adam. "I haven't seen malnutrition like this before," he says. Adam and Gisma desperately need help to survive."

The next day, Gates accompanies the mothers and their children on the three-hour car trip from UmTagouk to the feeding center in 100-degree heat and stifling humidity to a therapeutic feeding center in El-Geneina.

Three days later, the volunteers visit Adam and Gisma again. Pendleton is happily surprised that Adam is still alive. "It was so moving to see how Adam responded to the treatment at the feeding center," Pendleton says. Gates and Pendleton saw a remarkable change in the babies by the end of their month in Sudan. "Adam didn't look like the same child," Gates says. "And Gisma was downright pudgy!"

The United Nations calls Sudan's western Darfur region "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." Ongoing violence has uprooted more than a million people, including poor families such as Adam's. They were forced to leave their homes by armed militia groups. Infants are dying of malnutrition and disease.

Pendleton is a seasoned disaster relief volunteer. His six Northwest Medical Teams experiences allow him to share his skills and renew his spirit. "Rarely do you have an opportunity to encounter a culture as intimately as we do as Northwest Medical Teams volunteers," he says.

"It's a privilege to share," Gates says of his three volunteer journeys. He sees his Northwest Medical Teams work as a chance to share his Christian faith while helping people in desperate circumstances.