HHI Honored with Philly Awards

Heart to Heart International is honored to receive two Philly Awards from Nonprofit Connect for excellence in nonprofit marketing and communications.

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The 2015 Philly Awards were presented November 5 in downtown Kansas City, Missouri by the KC-based Nonprofit Connect, an organization that helps link nonprofits and provide resources & networking. The awards exist to celebrate excellence in marketing and communications efforts by nonprofits as they work to achieve their mission.

HHI was awarded two Phillys – winning in the Media Relations Campaign category for our Operation Ebola submission.  That entry also earned HHI an Award of Distinction for highly placing in the judging process.

The winning media campaign focused on HHI’s efforts to inform the world that HHI was joining the fight against the Ebola epidemic as one of just a handful of organizations going to Liberia in the Fall of 2014. The campaign also featured a one-day, multi-city media outreach to showcase our first wave of responders, the medical professionals from across the country that would be joining Operation Ebola.

This campaign around Operation Ebola reached an estimated 400-million worldwide, helping to inform more people about HHI and its mission.  For those interested, we’ve collected some of the media coverage of both the launch of Operation Ebola and of our responders from cities around the country, including some of the international media coverage.

We’re honored to have been considered and to have won, and thankful for the recognition of our work to not just help people, but to increase awareness of Heart to Heart International. The more people that know, the more we can help.

 

 

Suspect Ebola Case Tests Heart to Heart ETU Staff

The call came over the radio.  A new mother was showing signs of EVD – Ebola Virus Disease – and was now considered a “suspect case”.  She had just given birth 5 days prior in the large hospital next door to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Tappita, Liberia that Heart to Heart International (HHI) is operating.  This young mother had a fever, she was weak, lethargic.  And so the voice on the radio said the ambulance crew was on the way to retrieve her and the newborn baby, and deliver them to the ETU.

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In this tropical country, so close to the equator, an illness could be one of many things – dengue fever, yellow fever, lassa fever, malaria, among others.  But in this time of Ebola, no chances are taken.  So the hospital staff alerted the ETU staff.  And the ambulance crew that had been training for several days in a row on procedures and building teamwork, responded.  This was no training drill.  This was real.

Fortunately, the Ebola epidemic in Liberia has dropped significantly through a combination of a public awareness and education campaign by the Liberian government, the response of the US military, USAID, NGOs like HHI, International Medical Corps and others, and by the Liberian people themselves, as they embrace the changes to their culture in order to kick Ebola out of Liberia.  But still… the spectre of Ebola lurks.

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Outside the back entrance to the hospital, the ambulance crew began to don their PPE – Personal Protective Equipment.  These are the ‘space suits’ you see so many healthcare workers wearing – goggles, a body suit, triple gloves, mask.  Hotter than blazes inside it under the broiling African sun.  Because this was the real deal, as they pulled on the protective gear a few members of the crew began to sing a little Bob Marley tune – “don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing gonna be alright.”  I sang along as we all could feel the “what if” hanging in the humid air.

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Having one patient is one thing.  Having two, and one is a baby, is something more.  The newborn would have to go with the mother.  It took a little more coordination and thinking through the process, as you don’t move quickly or rashly when in PPE for fear of possible exposure.  But in the end, the training the crew has been doing paid off – the woman was loaded by stretcher onto the ambulance and the swaddled newborn was handed to a PPE-clad nurse to carry to the ETU.

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At the ETU, the donning tent was busy with staff dressing in PPE to take their positions as the mother and child were brought in through the patient gate of the ETU and directly into the Suspect Tent, where patients wait for test results before leaving or going to the Confirmed Tent.  Behind them trailed a sprayer, dousing the ground where they had walked carrying the patient, turning the path dark and wet with chlorine.

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A nurse drew a blood sample from both mother and child which was then hand-carried a couple of hundred yards to the US Army lab set up inside a wing of the hospital and placed inside a box outside the door.  Then, US Army Captain Jerod Brammer wearing his own PPE suit came to collect, spraying the outside of the box with chlorine before bringing the box inside to test the contents.

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The woman and child’s tests came back negative.  No EVD.  No Ebola.  And the woman and baby were taken back to the hospital, a better place for both than the sweltering suspect tent.  But this story doesn’t have a happy ending.  The woman died a day later.  Doctors shared that another medical condition likely caused her death.  The news tempered the joy of the job well done by the ETU staff and the negative test results.

Now our psychosocial team plans to help take the baby to the mother’s village. To family.  But also to a world that was already difficult and hard for babies, even before Ebola came to Liberia.

UPDATE 12Feb15: The worst news.  A few days after the mother died, her baby passed away too.  According to our Chief Medical Officer, the cause of the newborn’s death was not determined.

 

 

 

Heart to Heart’s Ebola Treatment Unit Opens

While members of our Ebola Response Team have been treating Ebola patients and working in facilities across Liberia for many weeks, Heart to Heart’s own Ebola Treatment Unit has been coming together.
The 50-bed unit has been under construction in the town of Tappita.  And now, just about 90 days from when Heart to Heart declared it would go to Liberia to fight Ebola – the ETU is up and running.

The Ebola Treatment Unit is in Tappita, a town about an 8 hour drive from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, in Nimba County.  The unit was built here as the town serves as a crossroads in this remote corner of Liberia. HHI took on the responsibility of running an ETU there as part of the coordinated international response to combat the spread of Ebola.  This is just one of several ETUs that are already in operation, or will soon be, across Liberia. The goal was to rapidly expand the capacity to combat the virus.  While the epidemic is still raging in West Africa, the efforts of our team and the greater response is having a positive impact in Liberia.

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The ‘suspect’ ward, where patients will await test results to determine whether they have contracted Ebola or another illness.

 

The construction of this Ebola Treatment Unit was managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the 36th Engineering Brigade based in Ft. Hood, Texas. The 50-bed ETU is a large compound, akin to a mobile hospital, with areas for patient triage and large tents for suspect cases and for patient treatment.  It also has ‘back’ areas for staff and for the supplies needed to operate the unit and to treat people with Ebola.  The facility also generates it’s own power thanks to two large diesel generators that allow the ETU to operate 24/7.  

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Members of our Ebola Response Team take some downtime in the ETU’s supply area.

 

Major funding for the ETU in Tappita comes from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), as well as from generous donations from individuals who continue to help support HHI’s overall operations in Liberia to combat Ebola.

Our team members remain hard at work.  The Ebola Treatment Unit is open.  Progress is being made in the fight against Ebola.  Please continue to support this critical effort.

Donate Now & Help stop Ebola

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NC Doctor Gives Radio Interview on Ebola Fight in Liberia

One of our Ebola Response Team members has returned from Liberia working with Heart to Heart International to combat the Ebola epidemic.
Dr. George Poehlman is a retired family physician living in North Carolina.  He spoke recently to WUNC 91.5, the public radio station in Chapel Hill, NC, about his time on the front lines of the Ebola fight.

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Dr. George Poehlman (r) with other Ebola Response Team members

 

HHI had contacted Dr. Poehlman to assist in our work in Liberia due to his medical experience and background working overseas.  As he told reporters with WUNC 91.5 he has “experience living and working in Africa, some experience with tropical medicine, and an understanding (of) the culture and the people is critical in the work against Ebola”.

Listen to Dr. Poehlman’s radio interview:

 

In the interview, “Dr. P” discusses some key actions that he sees as making a positive impact in slowing down the epidemic in Liberia.   He talks about the reasons he’s in a voluntary quarantine after returning, even though he’s considered low-risk and the seclusion is not necessary under CDC guidelines.  And he adds that it’s a good way to protect himself from the flu outbreak in the US!  It’s a great interview given by one of our outstanding Ebola Response Team members.  Give a listen.

 

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Dr. Poehlman was also interviewed by WRAL-TV and said this about his time with Heart to Heart International: “I was trained to take care of people and look out for people and that’s what I did, and I’m pleased to have been there. I was honored. I was humbled.”

 

US Senator Visits HHI’s Ebola Treatment Center

U.S. Senator Chris Coons is the first member of Congress to travel to Liberia since the start of the Ebola outbreak.  During his four day trip, he visited with deployed American troops, met with Liberian political leaders and explored Heart to Heart International’s new Ebola Treatment Unit in the town of Tappita.

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HHI’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega (center, in blue) escorts Senator Coons and Ambassador Deborah Malec, along with Liberian health and government officials, on a tour of the Tappita ETU.

 

Senator Coons of Delaware currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.  He said his trip to Liberia was partly to remind Americans that the Ebola epidemic is far from over, to make a holiday visit with the troops and to provide some oversight of the funds committed to fighting Ebola.

Coons: “There are more than 2,000 U.S. troops currently serving on the front lines of our fight against Ebola, building hospitals and field clinics, but no Member of Congress has visited them yet. I think it’s important to show them our support, especially during the holiday season while they’re away from their loved ones. Congress also just approved more than $2.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and to ensure the virus does not overrun the region again. It’s Congress’ job to perform responsible oversight of that investment.”

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Accompanying the senator on the tour of HHI’s Ebola Treatment Unit was US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac and Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne and overall commander of US troops in Liberia.  Maj. Gen. Volesky had been to the Tappita site previously, as construction for the ETU was managed by the 36th Engineer Brigade, from Fort Hood, Texas.

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As the Huffington Post reported, Coons said he took plenty of precautions to avoid contracting the disease. “Every place I’ve gone I’m washing my hands with chlorine. Instead of handshakes we’re doing the ‘elboa,'” he said, referring to bumping elbows.  Though the trip was considered a ‘low-risk’ visit the senator will follow protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control, his health will be monitored and his temperature taken every day for three weeks as a precaution.

Coons also told the Washington Post he had seen first-hand how international groups, like Heart to Heart International, along with local Liberian efforts had changed the trajectory of the epidemic in the country.

 

 

 

 

KC Chiefs’ Tamba Hali nominated for Man of the Year

The Kansas City Chiefs defensive stand-out has been nominated for the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award, in part due to his generous support of Heart to Heart International’s efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic in Hali’s native land of Liberia.

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Photo © Kansas City Chiefs

The prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award presented by Nationwide is unique among NFL honors because it is the only award that recognizes a current NFL player for outstanding community service activities as well as excellence on the field. – NFL.com

At Heart to Heart International we feel this nomination is so well deserved, because #91 stepped up in a big way.  Not only did Tamba Hali help to get the word out about our plans to open an Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia, he made a substantial donation to the effort.  Here’s an excerpt from his nomination:

How has your nominee put the needs of members in the community ahead of their own?
With the team in the midst of its bye-week, Hali put off travel to remain in Kansas City this October. Instead of embarking to a tropical paradise, he and Heart to Heart International formally announced the construction of a 70-bed Ebola Treatment Unit. In fact, Hali was so moved by the passion of Heart to Heart International that he pledged $50,000 to the cause.

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Hali, flanked by Dr. Lee Norman of the University of Kansas Hospital and HHI CEO Jim Mitchum (in blue jacket), after the October announcement that HHI would go to Liberia to combat the Ebola epidemic. Photo © Kansas City Chiefs

 

As reported on KCChiefs.com, the Chiefs organization nominated Hali this year for his prowess on the field, for his support of HHI and for doing so much for people in the Kansas City area.

We are very proud to have Tamba represent the Chiefs Kingdom as this year’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “As a player, with his teammates and in the communities he serves, Tamba demonstrates tremendous heart. He does not seek personal recognition for his tireless hard work. He prefers action over words. So, we are delighted to see him nominated for one of the most prestigious honors in our game.”

The Man of the Year will be announced January 31st, the day before the Super Bowl.  Of course we’re pulling for Tamba! So deserving!!

 

 

Our People of the Year

They’ve come from many backgrounds, all walks of life, from the US, Liberia and other countries – all sharing the same goals of saving lives and halting the spread of the Ebola virus.

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These are our People of the Year, these are our heroes.  These doctors and nurses, logistics specialists, humanitarian aid workers, cooks, security, ambulance drivers and chlorine sprayers  – all who have given their time and talents to step into the hot zone of the Ebola epidemic with Heart to Heart International.  We couldn’t be prouder of their service with us and for humankind.

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Recently, TIME magazine chose to recognize the heroic efforts of those on the front lines of the Ebola fight, choosing the Ebola Fighters as their “Person of the Year 2014”.  They saw that the people who have chosen to fight the epidemic, that put their lives on the line each and every day to help people and to help stop this terrible disease, are truly heroic in every sense of the word.

We at Heart to Heart recognize the actions of our own Ebola Response Team members – their courageous, valiant efforts.  We know it’s difficult work.  Several have already come face to face with the terrors of the virus.  And we know that we couldn’t tackle this without them.

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Our team members are hard at work.  Our Ebola Treatment Unit nears completion.  Progress is being made.  Please continue to support this critical effort.

Donate Now & Help stop Ebola

 

VIDEO: Working Together to Fight Ebola

A new video gives a glimpse into the early days of Heart to Heart International’s Operation Ebola in Liberia and showcases the importance of partnership to combat the Ebola epidemic.

For many weeks, Heart to Heart International CEO Jim Mitchum has been in Liberia overseeing the building of the organizational infrastructure needed to support the opening of an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU).   Along with Country Director Julie Hefner and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega, our team in Liberia has been putting all the pieces into place, hiring staff, and coordinating with multiple aid agencies as part of the global response to the epidemic.

Watch the video to learn the reasons why HHI has taken on the responsibility of running an ETU.  Hear from our new Liberian staff members about their desire to bring healthcare to their people and why it’s so important that HHI has come to help.  And learn how we’re working in partnership with other NGOs, like the International Medical Corps, to tackle this continuing humanitarian crisis.

 

Video by: Blake Nelson

 

Dispatch from Liberia: Life in Monrovia

Some of you have asked, “What is it like over there?”

The city of Monrovia (1.5 million people) is a hodge-podge of buildings, many of which are older and in some state of neglect.  The hot, humid weather causes mold and mildew to grow on almost any surface like a magnet attracting iron shavings.  Metal roofing is often brown with rust and the gutters sag or are non-existent.

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Taxis move along a street in front of a recently painted wall bearing information about the symptoms of Ebola in Monrovia.

 

Cars compete with loud, exhaust-spewing trucks for space along the roads and streets while brave pedestrians attempt to find safe ways to cross.  Driving here (and almost anywhere in the developing world) is a combination of “chicken” and mental calculation where inches matter much more than the no-passing stripes on the road.  Official vehicles (such as those with UN or Liberian government plates) turn on flashing lights and sirens, passing everyone while driving in the oncoming lanes.  Taxis swerve out and around cars that stop along the road, presenting many opportunities for collision. Horns honk constantly.

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A bustling downtown street in Monrovia, capital of Liberia.

 

Life for the common man is not easy here.  Jobs are harder to come by ever since the Ebola epidemic and because some businesses closed and others have down-sized.  People scrap for whatever work they can get.  It is common to see people trying to sell packages of gum or snacks to people in cars stopped at lights.  The blind or maimed (usually from the civil war that ended a decade ago) beg for money along the streets, particularly in areas frequented by foreigners.

But the crisis has touched every level of Liberian society.  Some of the wealthy have fled the country preferring to live in Europe or the US until the crisis subsides.  Schools have closed to help stop the spread of the disease, which will only exacerbate the educational gap created during the civil war years.

Ebola signOn Fridays and Saturdays, shops are busy and streets are crowded despite Ebola.  People have learned to live with the constant threat.  Bleach-water hand washing stations line the sidewalks and are required to be used before entering any store or establishment.  Monrovians have gladly embraced this new form of disinfection.  They also understand that you have to come in contact with bodily fluids of someone with symptoms to contract the disease, and there is no longer the panic that existed a few months ago.  Ebola-prevention education for the public is going on everywhere.  It is just the new way of life in Monrovia.

Heart to Heart International is extremely busy preparing for the opening later in November of our own Ebola Treatment Unit. It will be located in a town eight hours away where we will have most of our staff based.  Right now, we are hiring Liberians for many jobs including medical workers, ambulance drivers, logistics personnel and accountants.  It is a hectic but amazing time to be here, knowing that people’s lives are at stake.

And when this Ebola outbreak is eradicated, there will be more work.  The tiny medical infrastructure of Liberia that existed before the outbreak (there were fewer than 50 Liberian doctors at the start of this epidemic for a country of over four million souls) has been gutted.  It will be necessary for other countries to help in its rebuilding rather than leave people to the mercies of treatable diseases like malaria, typhoid and HIV, not to mention the risks of childbirth and accidents.  Along with many others, we are already thinking about the post-Ebola time to come.

-Jim

Dispatch from Liberia: Support Remains Critical

At 7:30 in the morning there is pounding on the front door of our two-bedroom apartment, which doubles as our temporary Heart to Heart International – Liberia office.

James Rogers, a Liberian man who will head-up our security team at the ETU when it opens, is excited to report that he has rented another vehicle, a well traveled Toyota Land Cruiser that actually has a functioning air-conditioner, to make a four hour one-way-trip to Bong County to pick up Dr. Vega and return him to Monrovia.

In this nearly all-cash society, James is also needing more money so he can put gas in the dark green 4-wheel drive beast before he heads out. We go through a lot of cash on a weekly basis and in many cases need to pay for things in advance. The apartment, for example, is on a six month lease… all of it due up-front.

We are able to survive here right now only by the grace of our donors who have provided support in the first weeks of Operation Ebola. But even those resources are becoming stressed, and we need additional support.

After a few difficult weeks, things are starting to come together. Nurses and doctors are scheduled to join us in Liberia, and we are getting the “ground-game” organized to support the ETU. 

This is a team effort and our donors are critical members of this team. We thank you for supporting us and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.

-Jim

Touring Tappita

The HHI team, along with USAID workers, touring the town of Tappita in Nimba County. The ETU is to be built next to the hospital seen in the photo.