Ashley Costa is an RN at UAB Hospital in the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) who stepped out of her comfort zone to make an impact in Zambia.
She is also one of our MSN students and recipient of the Marie L. O'Koren Endowed Nursing Scholarship for fall of 2012, and for this spring she was awarded the William Groce Campbell Endowed Nursing Scholarships. Last July (2012) she was in the middle of one of her last shifts before going on a two-week medical missions trip to Lusaka, Zambia. The unit nurse manager, Donna Purvis, was showing a visitor around the RNICU whom she introduced as Bupe Mwamba, a midwife from Zambia who was visiting the hospital as part of the International Nursing and Health Care Leadership and Management Program offered by the UAB School of Nursing. Ashley was happy to make the connection and she and Ms. Mwamba promised to stay in touch and meet in Zambia in a few weeks.
Ms. Mwamba asked many questions regarding the cleanliness of the RNICU and said she was amazed at how many times the nurses washed their hands. While this is a concept she knows and shares with her nursing colleagues back home, she said one of their problems is purchasing supplies and products which help maintain a sterile unit. Sometimes the products are available but too expensive, but many times they are simply not available.
Ms. Mwamba also expressed her passion for nursing education and how she wanted to take back what she was learning at UAB home to her NICU in Lusaka at University Teaching Hospital (UTH). Her goal is to reduce infection and mortality rates there and to provide more specialized neonatal nursing education to her nurses.
Ms. Mwamba and Ashley were able to meet in Lusaka only weeks later. With the help of Dr. Carlo, one of the attending Neonatologists at UAB, Ashley hand delivered a portable device to help monitor the small babies of their unit. It was exciting for Ashley to be able to share this story with her co-workers back at home, but she and they wanted to do more.
Donna Purvis, the nurse manager, immediately sought the approval of UAB Hospital and quickly their unit decided to "adopt" the NICU at UTH Hospital in Zambia. To kickoff the adoption, they raised funds through a hospital bake sale and sold T-shirts to promote their cause. Each of the staff nurses on the unit put together a gallon bag full of items for the nurses, such as gloves, pens, stethoscopes, tea, and other useful items. They also included sanitation products, hats, socks, and blankets for the babies in the NICU.
The more information they found out about the neonatal unit in Zambia, the more they wanted to give. This is the only NICU in the entire country of Zambia, where 2-4 nurses work per shift to take care of 20-50 babies. Supplies are hard to come by and the tiny patients are always in need. Ashley's and her unit's hope is that by adopting this unit they are able to help the Zambian nurses care for their patients and reduce infection while building a loving and caring relationship 8,000 miles away.
The nurses at the UAB RNICU continued to collect as many supplies as they could, and soon had boxes and boxes ready to send to Zambia. Ashley spoke with FedEx's charitable coordinator and shared with her what they were trying to do. She immediately offered for FedEx to cover the entire shipping cost. Three days before Christmas, six large boxes made it across the world in just five days.
The Zambia NICU had a celebration announcing the adoption of their unit on Christmas Eve where they unloaded the boxes and distributed the goods to the nurses and patients. This is just a small glimpse of what lies ahead. The RNICU are planning to send a shipment of teaching tools on neonatology care this spring and hoping to be able to skype via cameras in each of our units to teach the nurses updated neonatal care.
For more information on how you can help, or to purchase a snappy looking t-shirt, please contact Ashley Costa at Acosta@uabmc.edu.