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Bridge of Life Up Close

The Faces of Kidney Disease in India

Recently, I traveled to India to take part in a Bridge of Life (BOL) medical mission and conduct some other business-related activities. It was a jam-packed itinerary with four in-country flights in eight days, spanning the distance from Delhi to Bangalore with stops along the way in Jodhpur, Mt. Abu and Mumbai.

Lori visits with a dialysis patient at a clinic Bridge of Life helped to establish in India

Lori visits with a dialysis patient at a clinic Bridge of Life helped to establish in India

First – India! Wow. What a fascinating country that jars the senses with its mix of the modern and the ancient, efficiency and confusion, and what has to be the most chaotic traffic in the world. Rickshaws and camels share the road with cars and motorbikes, and rules of the road are nonexistent. Horns blast constantly both as a way to promote safety (“I’m passing you”) and express frustration (“why are you passing me?”). Being a passenger requires a Zen-like sense of calm and acceptance of the environment. I also found not looking out the driver’s window to be a helpful strategy.

It’s impossible to spend even several weeks in India and feel like you begin to understand this complex country of contrasts that is simultaneously racing toward its economic destiny while struggling to overcome tremendous poverty. According to the World Health Organization, up to 60% of the population does not have access to adequate healthcare provision. And that’s why, for the past eight years, BOL has been providing ongoing medical missions focused on both treatment and prevention while also strengthening the healthcare infrastructure.

Our work began with missions in 2008 to establish dialysis clinics in Jodhpur and Phalodi with our in-country partner, International Human Benefit Services (HBS). In 2013, we helped to upgrade a clinic in Nagercoil in partnership with Holy Cross Hospital and we are currently in the process of expanding two clinics at J. Watumull Global Hospital & Research Centre in Mt. Abu. These dialysis clinics provide lifesaving treatment to people who would likely have no other options.

654 individuals were screened for CKD during Bridge of Life's recent screenings in Jodhpur and Phalodi

654 individuals were screened for CKD during Bridge of Life’s recent screenings in Jodhpur and Phalodi

I frequently say there’s only one thing better than lifesaving dialysis treatment – not needing treatment in the first place. The way to achieve that is through chronic kidney disease (CKD) screening (testing) and education. In April 2016, we conducted our first CKD Screening Mission in both Phalodi and Jodhpur, India. Over four days, we screened 654 people for CKD and provided each of them with comprehensive education on how to care for their kidneys. Those in late stages of CKD were referred to physicians for ongoing follow-up.

It was humbling to see the men and women of all ages who arrived each day for screening, their gratitude obvious in the smiles and hugs that overcome language barriers (many spoke Hindi and other dialects). Though this was only our sixth CKD screening outside of the United States, I was able to see firsthand the effectiveness of our process, the thoroughness of our education and the vital service we are providing to places with a severe shortage of treatment options. Prevention is the answer in these environments, and we are on the frontlines in delivering it.

“At BOL, we talk about providing treatment, but what we are really doing is enabling human potential.”

I also visited the dialysis clinic in Jodhpur which our partner HBS is operating. They are providing very affordable and quality treatment in an area where no other clinics exist. Two of the patients I met are young adults in their late 20s/early 30s. Both have advanced degrees and work as teachers despite the treatments they must receive two to three times per week. In talking with them about their lives and interests, I realized what we always understand from these interactions – all human beings basically want the same things in life. This young man and woman want what every young adult wants – to live, love and work and enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers.

At BOL, we talk about providing treatment, but what we are really doing is enabling human potential. And we are proclaiming through our work that every human being deserves the chance to live a healthy and fulfilling life, regardless of where they are born.

I returned from India proud of our work, humbled by our partners who overcome tremendous challenges to provide healthcare and inspired to grow our resources so that we can do more. I won’t forget the faces I saw at our screening and those undergoing treatment. I hope you can see them too.

Posted in Bridge of Life Teammates, Executive | 4 Comments