Corey Mealer Reflection – Heart Block: Diagnosis an Management Education in Uganda

Center for Global Health
May 20, 2024
A photo of Corey Mealer and his colleagues while completing a global health trip at Masindi Kitara Hospital in Masindi, Uganda. Submitted Photo

Corey Mealer is a College of Medicine student at MUSC. He was awarded a Center for Global Health Student & Trainee Travel Grant in the fall of 2023 to pursue a project with OneWorld Health in Masindi, Uganda. View more photos of Corey's time in Uganda in this Flickr photo gallery.

As our team is walking out of the Kampala, Uganda, airport and into our new home for the next month, we are greeted with a big hug from Joel, the man who will be showing us around for the next month. Joel showed us love and kindness from the moment we met him, and we quickly found out from him and many of the other people who would welcome us during our journey, why Uganda is known as, “the Pearl of Africa.”

The following day, the team – Adam, Austin, Hollis, John B., John M., Kelsey, and I – are taken to Masindi Kitara Hospital (MKH) in Masindi, Uganda. MKH is one of eight medical centers in Uganda that is a self-sustaining center formed in collaboration with OneWorld Health. Mornings would start with devotion, fostering early relationships with the people who are in the hospital every day. After devotion, we would spend the rest of the day rounding with the doctors, collaborating with staff for bidirectional learning, or immersing ourselves in different departments like pre-natal, anti-retroviral therapy, and physical therapy clinics. Early in the experience I received an Empaako, which is a praise or pet name that most people in the community have, Akiiki meaning one with great love, care, honesty, and kindness that I will forever be working to live up to.

While there, I worked on an ongoing project to improve electrocardiogram (ECG) use and interpretation services at MKH with Austin Thomas under the guidance of Claire Milam, M.D. To accomplish this goal, I worked one-on-one with Ugandan providers to help understand and interpret ECGs, offered a lecture with tips and examples of how to interpret atrioventricular block, a pervasive and debilitating condition for many patients in Uganda. The current goal of the project is to improve the use of the ECG so that the hospital can improve diagnostic and treatment capabilities for patients and the use of the ECG is another source of sustainability for the hospital.

Throughout my time in Uganda, there was an early comment that really stuck with me from Joel, “tell people back home what you saw here.” I witnessed a spectrum of humanity: love, kindness, hospitality, grit, ingenuity, intelligence, culture, and patience, juxtaposed with heart-wrenching, difficult realities. For instance, as most people in the community farm, organophosphates are readily available as a cheap pesticide, but also a common source of poison that tragically led to irreversible harm to several patients. These experiences were only amplified when we visited the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, home to over 100,000 refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya in Bweyale, Uganda. At the refugee settlement, they only had two doctors on staff for all 100,000 potential patients that could come in, which they were responsible for handling surgically and medically. While resources and doctors were scant, their compassion abounded as they welcomed us and patiently served each and every patient they saw.

While these stories are difficult, I am highlighting them to show the great deal of grit and compassion that I witnessed. I was reminded early in my trip of the powerful South Carolina motto, “as I breathe, I hope.” Amidst adversity, the people of Masindi and Bweyale welcomed us with open arms, imparting invaluable lessons about the hard sciences of medicine and the “soft” sciences of compassion and care. I am humbled by the depth of my experiences, and heavily committed to honoring my Empaako, Akiiki, as a reminder to embody love, care, honesty, and kindness in all my future endeavors.