Sunday, February 8, 2004

Doctor's family applauds
choice to help out in Africa



By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gretchen Stone
Dr. Gretchen Stone (right) says goodbye to friend Lisa Boys of Loveland. Stone is to leave today for the far reaches of Sudan.
(Photos by Meggan Booker/The
Cincinnati Enquirer)
Gretchen Stone
Stone returns last-minute calls to patients Friday. Colleagues will fill in for her while she's in Africa.l
Gretchen Stone
Stone of Loveland carries groceries for her family and supplies for herself from the trunk of her friend Judy Leever's car. Leever shopped for Stone because the doctor was busy preparing for her month-long trip to Sudan.
LOVELAND - Her husband and three kids have vowed to cook, clean and run the household while she's away.

Colleagues Jim Kolp and Doris Corey at Loveland Family Practice promised to pick up care of her patients for the next month.

And, close friends have spent the week shopping for the straw hats, Teva sandals and lightweight skirts she's been told she'll need to survive the glaring desert sun and sub-Saharan temperatures.

After getting an urgent call for help, Gretchen Stone was to head out today on a journey to the far reaches of Sudan, where she will help treat villagers suffering from tuberculosis and other fatal diseases.

For Stone, it's a long-awaited opportunity in a project the family physician and Hamilton Township native has helped coordinate for 15 years. A supply plane will drop her off Feb. 11 at a clearing in the remote village of Keew in the West Upper Nile region, where she will work alongside friend Dr. Jill Seaman in a clinic under a tree. Stone, 50, is replacing a Dutch nurse, who was called home because of a family emergency.

Under the auspices of the International Medical Relief Fund, Seaman has been running the South Sudan Tuberculosis Project since 1989, treating annually up to 300 patients in the Nuer and Dinka tribes who suffer from the disease.

The project also provides treatment for the parasitic disease kala azar, which is spread by the sand fly and has reached epidemic proportions, Stone said.

DONATIONS WELCOME

Dr. Jill Seaman helped establish tuberculosis treatment in the West Upper Nile region of Sudan in 1989, working then with Doctors Without Borders. The organization abandoned the program around 1995, when the civil war made it too dangerous for volunteers. Seaman and nurse Sjoukje de Wit returned to Sudan in July 2000 after receiving financial support from friends who formed the International Medical Relief Fund. The group raises about $100,000 to operate the Sudan TB Project, which treats 200 to 300 tuberculosis patients a year and many others with leprosy and kala azar, a parasitic disease spread by the bite of the sand fly.

Tax-deductible donations can be earmarked for the tuberculosis project through Capacitar, 23 E. Beach St., No. 206, Watsonville, CA 95076.  

It is the first time in 13 years that Stone has been able to break away on a medical relief trip since her first child, Katie, was born. Before that, she volunteered in Central America on medical missions. Keew is so remote, it's not even on a map, she said.

"There are no roads. There is no cash economy. There is no telephone. Most of the people can't read or write. People haven't even seen a ballpoint pen," Stone said, noting that the people are semi-nomadic cattle herders.

Stone expects she'll be sleeping in a tent or mud hut, maybe on a cot - after she checks for scorpions. Temperatures typically reach 110 degrees or more during the dry season, which just started.

If the weather is good, a solar-powered computer will provide the only contact with the outside world, except for the costly and erratic satellite telephone.

Stone is not sure what she'll be eating, but figures it will include lots of lentils and a little meat. Of course, there will be the triple batch of homemade lemon squares that Katie baked and sent along to share.

Even with their mother headed to a country that only four months ago enacted a cease-fire after 20 years of civil war, Stone's children approve.

Husband Phil and their children, Katie, 13, Woody, 12 and Peter, 9, all agree it's an opportunity they couldn't let her pass up.

"I think it's pretty cool. What she is going to be doing is going to be helping a lot of people," Katie said.

E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com




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