A World of Difference in Tanzania

At long last and nearing the end of our team’s two weeks in Tanzania, the container of donations and medical supplies arrived! This 40-foot container was shipped months ago, but required extensive processing before it was delivered to the hospital.

As soon as it arrived, our team got to work unpacking and setting up the supplies, equipment and laptops donated by SCL Health.  Many laptops went to the MaaSAE Lutheran Girls School where young girls are able to receive a secondary education. This school provides an essential service to these young women because it gives them economic independence in a culture where the biggest challenge is forced marriages and a life of servitude. These ambitious women have dreams of becoming doctors, chemists and teachers. Watch as one of these girls shares her dream of becoming a doctor.

Back at Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, our team was wrapping up their work and teaching a seminar on Basic Life Support (BLS). Nearly 80 nursing students attended the session and things even got musical when Amy Kreeger taught chest compressions to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.  You can watch a video of this hit lesson here.

Throughout their two weeks in Tanzania, our associates used their creativity, expertise and teamwork to accomplish their long list of goals. From installing the new medical air compressor and x-ray machine, to increasing server storage and leading educational seminars, this trip made a lasting impact on the lives of our Tanzanian brothers and sisters.

Breathing Easier in Tanzania

Tanzania2017_2Our team of 10 SCL Health associates and two physicians have been in Arusha, Tanzania, for a week and have already accomplished so much. From teaching caregivers to perform a bronchoscopy to installing the new x-ray machine and data storage hardware, their work is having a tremendous impact on the lives of so many in need of care.

A New Skill
With a crowd of enthusiastic participants gathered around, Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre’s (ALMC) first bronchoscopy was performed this week.Tanzania2017_1 Our team provided the new bronchoscope as well as interactive training videos and hands-on practice so, when needed, the clinicians were ready to use their new skills.

Shortly after, a patient with a chronic cough was admitted who would benefit greatly from a bronchoscopy. Our team quickly hooked up the new equipment and the ALMC medical staff and students were able to participate in the procedure. With this simple test, they were able to rule out any significant pathology, including cancer. Previously, doctors at ALMC would have had to subject the patient to many more tests, and may not have been able to rule out several possible causes.

X-Rays and IT: The Work Continues
Remember that 40-year-old, broken x-ray machine at Selian Lutheran Hospital? Thanks to some hard work and muscle from our volunteers and ALMC staff, it’s out of there! Our team has replaced it with an x-ray machine donated by Saint Joseph Hospital. This new system will provide years of reliable imaging moving forward, an incredible advancement for a hospital that has not had any x-ray capability for years. Still, can you imagine a hospital having x-ray and CT images, but not being able to store them?

Data storage is something we rarely have to think about in the United States, but in Tanzania it is a huge obstacle to ongoing patient care. Until this trip to Tanzania, ALMC had to dump all of their data every eight weeks because there wasn’t enough storage. This meant that, if a patient came back with a recurring issue, there was no record of their previous treatment. For the last week, our IT team has been working on installing storage hardware that will be able to store x-ray images. Tanzania2017_4Thanks to our volunteers’ dedicated work, not only will historical images now be available, but ALMC staff will be able to transmit them to other locations around the world to be interpreted by people with radiology expertise.

Messages of Thanks
SCL Health’s generous donations of time, equipment and supplies never go unnoticed by the staff at ALMC. Watch Sister Paulina and Sister Tumaini share a video message of thanks for the kindness of SCL Health!

Still Work to be Done: Volunteers Head Back to Tanzania

Tanzania_1What do a Registered Nurse from Good Samaritan and a Network Engineer from St. Vincent have in common? They’re two of the 10 SCL Health associates heading to Tanzania, Africa, on January 20 for this year’s international ministry work in the country.

Every year, SCL Health travels to Arusha, Tanzania, to take our mission to serve the poor and vulnerable abroad. Our work in Tanzania began in 2005 and, over the past 12 years, our health system has brought essential equipment, supplies and training to our partner hospitals in the area — Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre (ALMC) and Selian Lutheran Hospital. Our work has also benefitted Plaster House, a part of ALMC that houses children during their pre- and postoperative care and rehabilitation.

Tanzania_2Our Purpose and Impact:
Would you walk 12 miles with a broken bone to get an x-ray? Probably not! Still, this is the reality for many people in Tanzania. Since Selian Lutheran Hospital doesn’t have a working x-ray machine, injured and weak patients are required to walk an additional 12 miles to ALMC in the hopes of getting an x-ray. During this year’s trip, our associates will install an eight-year-old Quantum digital x-ray system, generously donated by Saint Joseph Hospital. Additionally, we will install a whole house medical air system that will support mixed gas therapy in the NICU, ICU and during surgery. Our information technology professionals will also be present to install computers and work on the hospital’s servers, network and data storage.

Over the two-week trip, our medical team will be supporting and teaching the physicians and nurses at Selian and Arusha Lutheran Medical Centers. They will host a Skills Fair to teach how to care for respiratory and cardiac patients. The overall goal of the medical team is to improve care in every facet of a patient’s life — physical, mental, social and spiritual.

Tanzania_3Why Work Internationally?
As a faith-based health system, our mission calls us to serve those in need within our hospitals and clinics, but also those across the continent and throughout the world.

According to the Catholic Health Association, “Through the international outreach of Catholic healthcare, we expand our understanding of who is our neighbor … As our international outreach moves out in concrete ways throughout the world, we begin to break down boundaries and borders and become the sacrament of service and solidarity that the Church is called to be.”

Meet the team:













You can follow the group’s journey here on SCL Health News by clicking on the tab labeled “Tanzania.” We’ll be providing updates from the team over the next two weeks. The group will also be keeping a personal blog of their day-to-day experiences.

If you would like to help, Plaster House (a part of ALMC) accepts donations at www.gohealthechildren.com. Through this site, 100% of the dollars donated go directly to the children and improving their care. Want to join us in wishing well to our travelers? Leave your comment in the forum below!

22 Trips to Tanzania and Counting for Denver Surgeon


Dr. Sigdestad, right, with Dr. Mark Jacobson, Executive Director of the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center, and Dr. Deborah Davis-Merritt, Associate Program Director for Surgery Residency Program at Saint Joseph.

Dr. Joel Sigdestad has been to Tanzania 22 times for mission work. He is a retired general surgeon, having worked at Good Samaritan, Lutheran and Saint Joseph, but he keeps going back for the people—for the partnerships. As he puts it, “When you’re sitting in a hut and singing or praying with someone who is dying of AIDS and TB and they only have one kid left out of six, you can’t leave there with a dry eye.”

Tim Nock, Manager of Respiratory Therapy, Sleep Center and Neurodiagnostics at Lutheran Medical Center, went on his first mission trip with SCL Health in May.

“I truly believe that we were put on this earth not to serve ourselves, but to serve others,” says Nock on his motivation to go to Tanzania.

Dr. Sigdestad has taught a number of medical staff in Tanzania, and even passed his passion for mission work on to his daughter.

“When she was a little kid we went to see the movie Born Free,” recalls Dr. Sigdestad. “We walked out of the theatre and she said, ‘Dad, someday I’m going to be a doctor just like you and we’re going to work in Africa.’ I said, “That’s just wonderful.” End of conversation.”

She reminded him of this conversation years later when she was in medical school, and once she finished they spent seven weeks together in Africa. She assisted him in the operating room and helped run pediatric clinics.

“Pay attention to your kids,” says Dr. Sigdestad.

This is just one of the lessons Dr. Sigdestad has learned in his time in Tanzania. Nock learned many of the same lessons and they share their insight below.


Go Quietly

Especially for the first few trips, Dr. Sigdestad stresses the importance of listening more than talking. The medical and larger culture in Tanzania are vastly different than the United States. A lot of people get frustrated in the first week of their first mission trip because they feel like they are not doing enough, but Dr. Sigdestad says there is huge value in doing little rather than doing the wrong thing.

“Just sit and observe their customs, listen, ask questions, and don’t try to come up with so many answers,” says Dr. Sigdestad.

“I did not grasp truly how to understand what I was going into,” says Nock. “I just thought I was going to do all these things and be able to teach and help out. Where I went was one of the ten poorest countries and I had to realize my expectations were only my expectations.”

Teach a Man to Fish

Tim Nock, left, teaching basic mechanical ventilation, and basic pulmonary anatomy and physiology.

Tim Nock, left, teaching basic mechanical ventilation, and basic pulmonary anatomy and physiology.

Dr. Sigdestad tells the story of a surgeon who came to Denver four times to learn basic procedures to illustrate the importance of teaching in his mission work. After about 50 cases the surgeon felt comfortable and asked Dr. Sigdestad to help him teach his fellow Tanzanians to perform laparoscopic surgery. Dr. Sigdestad knew he needed to teach an entire team, including anesthesiologists and OR nurses, rather than just a couple surgeons. So he took a full team to Tanzania for a four day course including lectures, labs, and two days in the OR.

“We had 45 people who went through it the first time,” says Dr. Sigdestad. “Great feeling. I could have died at that time. That was really something.”

Be Partners, Not Tourists

“There are many people who go to Africa for two weeks and paint a school or paint a house, drop off a few hundred dollars’ worth of things, buy some trinkets and go on home to tell people all about it,” says Dr. Sigdestad. “In order for us to get this stuff done we have to have them believe what we say, and that we will be back.”

Dr. Sigdestad warns that much mission work is really done to make those visiting feel good. Often, it disrupts the African peoples’ lifestyle and takes jobs away.

“One of the folks there said, ‘Thank you for taking the time to know us,’” says Nock. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Everybody comes here just to go to the safari and do all these other things, but you have gotten to know us.’ He was grateful that the group took time to get to know them, to have dinner with them, sit with them.”

And that is why Dr. Sigdestad has focused so much on establishing a long-standing partnership with Dr. Mark Jacobson, Executive Director of Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, and others that sustains itself when SCL Health associates are not there. Education, accountability for that education, and a sustained presence are vital for improving care in a country so strapped for resources.

“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Dr. Sigdestad.

Mission Moment: Who Rescued Who?

Carlos Sarmiento, Director, Data Center Operations

Carlos Sarmiento, Director, Data Center OperationsDid you know SCL Health supports a small healthcare system in Africa?

For the past ten years, our organization has sponsored annual mission trips to provide medical services at Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre in Arusha, Tanzania. I was fortunate enough to go along on this year’s trip — providing IT support and serving alongside clinicians, nurses and our other healthcare professionals.

Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Still, even with the most basic infrastructure, I was amazed with the services Arusha provided. For instance, the surgical suite at Selian has numerous large windows so that when they lose power — which happens quite frequently — doctors can still perform surgeries with daylight.

I also visited Plaster House, a rehabilitation center for children in need of corrective surgery. It was humbling to see so many children facing incredible challenges yet all of them beaming with smiling faces.

Another branch of Arusha’s healthcare system, Hospice and Palliative Care, serves more than 4,500 families a week, many in small villages accessible only by four wheel drive. These patients, most with HIV or tuberculosis, welcomed us into their homes even though we were complete strangers. The compassion the hospice nurses and volunteers offered was wonderful. They not only treated the body, they treated the whole person and always included prayer and singing at the end of each visit. This was one of the most moving experiences of the entire trip for me.

As much as we did to help during our time there, I am certain that we left with much more than we provided. The people of Tanzania were so warm and friendly, embodying SCL Health’s caring spirit. They reminded me to do more with less, be happy despite challenges, treat strangers with kindness, and rely on the power of prayer.

After arriving home, I saw a popular bumper sticker stating, “Who Rescued Who?” This truly defines my feelings about the trip.

I am so grateful to SCL Health for providing the opportunity to serve on this amazing mission trip. Our work reaches far beyond our four walls—demonstrating our commitment to “improving the health of the people and communities we serve, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.”

By: Carlos Sarmiento, Director, Data Center Operations

Tanzania: A Lasting Impact

After two weeks in Tanzania serving the poor and vulnerable, our associates waved goodbye to their colleagues at Arusha Lutheran Medical Center (ALMC). But the equipment, education and skills they left behind will have a lasting impact on the hospital long after our volunteers have returned home. This annual mission trip is one of the many ways SCL Health strives to serve others and honor the rich heritage of our health ministry.

Despite frequent downpours and power outages, our team of 12 SCL Health associates made many substantial contributions:

Tanzania Final_SkillsFair

They hosted a highly successful Skills Fair with seven stations, including: CPR, Intubation, EKG rhythms, nasotracheal suctioning, respiratory distress, ventilators and bipap.


Tanzania Final_IT

They delivered and activated 50 new computers, which are fully operational at the site. A new network was set up, including six new access points.


Tanzania Final_Teamwork

They provided education on adult ventilation and gave presentations on perioperative assessment, hypertension, heart disease and sepsis.


Tanzania Final_NICU

A medical air system for the NICU was built and deployed. Two oxygen blenders, which can care for four babies, were put into use. They trained the ALMC staff to operate the blenders and maintain the compressor.


Tanzania Final_Pharmacy

They also provided training on pharmacology and antibiotics. Working with the one and only pharmacist at ALMC, they helped organize and digitize their inventory.


Tanzania Final_Group

“Our time there was exciting, busy and very rewarding,” says Cindy Ritter, who maintained a blog for the trip. “We had a great team and cooperated well with the ALMC nurses, biomed and IT teams.”

Please join us in thanking our volunteers and International Ministry team for making this valuable work possible!

No Power? No Problem for IT Work In Tanzania

Frequent power outages, torrential rain and spotty internet connections. These are not ideal conditions to update a hospital’s information technology (IT) systems. Despite these challenges, our IT team in Tanzania has made great progress updating the servers and equipment at Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre.

On only their second day of work, the team was able to upgrade the hospital’s servers.

“James, Andrew and Carlos worked nearly the whole night to go-live with the new system,” says Cindy Ritter, who maintains a blog of activities for the trip. By performing this go-live in the evening, the crew was able to minimize any impact on patient care.

The team has also prepared new computers, keyboards and mice and installed internet access points in key locations throughout the hospital.

Andy removing the old monitors in the ICU.

Andy removing the old monitors in the ICU.

Dan and Andrew finding the new monitors for the ICU.

Dan and Andrew finding the new monitors for the ICU.

Getting ready to install the data storage.

Getting ready to install the data storage.





Zack, James and Carlos discussing the upgrade.

Zack, James and Carlos discussing the upgrade.

Zack, James and Carlos building the network cabinet.

Zack, James and Carlos building the network cabinet.

Programming the assembly.

Programming the assembly.

Babies Breathing Easier, Thanks to SCL Health

Dr. Mark DeMarie (Saint Joseph Hospital/Good Samaritan Medical Center) and Dr. Anna discuss care in the NICU.

Dr. Mark DeMarie (Saint Joseph Hospital/Good Samaritan Medical Center) and Dr. Anna discuss care in the NICU.

Halfway across the world, 10 little babies are breathing soundly in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) tonight.

This small NICU is located in Arusha Lutheran Medical Center (ALMC) in Tanzania, and its 10 little patients are kept breathing by medical equipment from the former Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver.

The group brought an air compressor to Tanzania in this year’s international ministry trip to the country. The compressor is playing a vital role in the babies’ care. Getting the compressor to the babies, however, wasn’t as simple as the team had hoped.

When the team arrived at Denver International Airport with their duffel bags of gear and medical equipment, they were told the air compressor would not be allowed. Thankfully, by disassembling it and proving its safety, they were given the green light to bring it onboard.

This was an essential piece of equipment, as the air compressor allows the NICU clinicians to blend medical gases. This ensures that premature babies receive the appropriate amount of oxygen.

After almost not being allowed on the plane, the air compressor is now reassembled and being put to use in Arusha. Tim Nock, respiratory therapist from Lutheran Medical Center, is creating a training video for local clinicians on using the equipment after the group comes back home.

Tanzania Bound, Team Takes Our Mission Across World

2015-05-01_08-16-34_417A dozen of our associates from hospitals across SCL Health took off for Tanzania this month as part of an annual tradition to take our mission to serve the poor and vulernable abroad.

During this year’s mission trip, associates will focus on adult and neonatal ICU, BioMed and information technology. In addition to training local physicians, SCL Health recently donated a 53-foot container filled with servers and biomed equipment from the former Saint Joseph Hospital.

The International Ministry trips began in 2005 and bring much-needed equipment, supplies and training to our partner hospital in Arusha, Tanzania, Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre. Five other people, not employed by SCL Health, are also on the trip.

You can follow the group’s journey here on SCL Health News by visiting the Tanzania tab in the main menu. The group also has a personal blog.

And if you’ve ever grumbled about air travel, consider this: each member of the group lugged three, 50-pound duffel bags stuffed with equipment, supplies, medicine and children’s toys. All on a 35-hour journey.

This year, 12 associates from across our system joined the ranks of those who’ve boarded a 35-hour flight in the past, headed to this remote part of Africa.

Meet the team:

Name Care Site Team
Larisha Bartow Saint Joseph Hospital NICU (RN)
Catherine Davis Good Samaritan Medical Center ICU (Pharmacy)
Mark DeMarie Saint Joseph Hospital & Good Samaritan Medical Center NICU (Physician)
Kelli Early St. Mary’s Hospital ICU (RN)
Sr. Jennifer Gordon System Services Admin
Andrew Kroupa Saint Joseph Hospital BioMed
Kristy Murphy Good Samaritan Medical Center ICU (RN)
Tim Nock Lutheran Medical Center ICU (Respiratory Therapy)
Piper Platte St. Vincent Healthcare ICU (RN)
Dan Ritter Saint Joseph Hospital BioMed
Zach Rooney St. Vincent Healthcare Information Technology
Carlos Sarmiento System Services Information Technology