West Michigan organization gets first-ever x-ray machine for South Sudan hospital

Posted at 11:29 PM, Jan 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-12 23:29:25-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- An x-ray machine is being sent to a South Sudanese hospital for the first time. Spectrum Health donated the $70,000 machine to Partners in Compassionate Care to be sent to a hospital they started in 2003 in South Sudan called Memorial Christian Hospital.

Spectrum Health got the request to donate the machine in Spring 2013 from one of its members, David Bowman. Spectrum Health donated a CR, the part that turns x-rays into digital images. This will be the first time doctors can test for things like bone fractures or breaks, and, more importantly, can take chest x-rays for tuberculosis.

“In South Sudan where this equipment is going, this will be the only piece of equipment showing digital images that is available to the Sudanese in that area, and that's powerful,” said Jason Fleeger of Spectrum Health.

South Sudan seems worlds away from West Michigan, but there's a direct pipeline connecting the two, and it all started during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

“In the year 2000 so many South Sudanese refugees came to Grand Rapids, and many of them stayed with families here,” said Harvey Doorenbos of Partners in Compassionate Care. "The families became very interested in the situation of South Sudan."

Partners in Compassionate Care is a group of ordinary Michiganders got together to do something that seemed almost impossible. They formed a hospital called Memorial Christian Hospital. Some had no background in health care and little knowledge of South Sudan.

The group that built the hospital in South Sudan, and the hospital has expanded in size, staff, and medical technology since 2003, but it still has a way to go. Deng Jongkoch, who came to the US as a child during the war is now part of PCC, dedicates his life to helping his brothers and sisters back home.

“This X-ray is going to serve about 1.5 million people in the whole region,” said Jongkoch. "It's going to be helping with people with tuberculosis, with suspected HIV AIDS, and patients with trauma because of the violence in the area."

“People are amazed at what can happen to a very sick person when they are treated with modern medicine and living in Africa,” said Dr. Harvey Doorenbos, a surgeon who has traveled all over Africa helping many get healthy.

“To be completely honest, I didn't realize how significant the equipment would be to their organization until I learned so much more about Partners in Compassionate Care, and then recently reading about what they are actually doing in South Sudan,” said Fleeger.

Jongkuch says with every piece of equipment the hospital receives, the South Sudanese quality of life increases.

“Before the hospital was there, if you’re sick, you would pray, and if that didn’t work, you die,” said Jongkuch.

Jongkuch says the South Sudanese are still getting used to modern medicine instead of using their traditional ways to cure sickness. Jongkuch remembers a recent visit to South Sudan, where a young boy was very ill. “They thought it was another disease, so they used traditional ways of healing. They cut both his arms and his head with a hot stick, but this young child was dying,” said Jongkuch. "The family brought the child to hospital, where he was suffering from malnutrition. The hospital put him on a proper diet for a week, and he lived. However, if the hospital wasn’t there, he would have died."

“They thought they could cure him traditionally by burning something sharp,” said Jongkuch.

The South Sudanese are still getting used to modern medicine. The hospital most recently received an ultra sound machine.

“Even someone with a headache will say that they want to order a ‘sound’ on their head,”  laughed Jongkuch.

The ultra sound has brought the region a lot of safe births with healthy babies. The staff there knows the x-ray machine will bring them a higher quality of healthcare for over a million South Sudanese that they've never experienced before.

“The hospital is changing life,” said Jongkuch.

The x-ray machine is supposed to be shipped within the next month or two. To run it, PCC has hired a South Sudanese x-ray technician who was trained in Salt Lake City. In addition, the hospital will become entirely South Sudanese run in April, a vision PCC had when they started the hospital.