Maternal deaths and stillbirths are uncommon in Canada. Access to quality healthcare is readily available. Pregnancies are quite often joyous journeys, not potential life sentences.
In other parts of the world, this is not at all the case. Dr. Lorraine Woolford, a surgical assistant with Mississauga’s Credit Valley Hospital, knows firsthand how bad things can be. But she also knows how to make them better.
Woolford, who spoke at the Canadian Federation of University Women – Oakville’s April meeting, works with CNIS, the Canadian Network for International Surgery. Founded in 1995, CNIS is an organization not even Woolford had heard of before she joined it. It wasn’t until she received an email about taking the CNIS instructor course, that she became involved.
Now, as a CNIS volunteer instructor, Woolford teaches surgical techniques to healthcare providers in countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, two of the 10 countries CNIS has worked in to date. There is a focus on obstetrical procedures, though general surgical techniques are also taught.
In Africa, the continent where the majority of CNIS’ work takes place, surgeries are often performed by non-specialists. Instructors like Woolford, teach these people the life-saving skills they will inevitably need. The Caesarean section technique is one such skill. It helps reduce the maternal mortality rate, which is currently 1 in 13 for African women, according to the CNIS website.
At her CFUW talk, Woolford recalled a memory of a student who learned how to perform C-sections. She said the student was so happy he could now save not just one life, but two.
Another important course CNIS delivers is the Safe Surgery Saves Lives Nursing Course, which teaches the SSSL principles as outlined by the World Health Organization. These principles are carried out by following a checklist of steps for each stage of the surgery – before anesthesia is administered, before the incision is made and before the patient leaves the operating room.
Perhaps the most innovative element of CNIS is the volunteer-made practice items that the students use. Stomachs are recreated using layers of vinyl, foam rubber, elastic bands and thin plastic. Surgery can be practiced over and over on such models. Another initiative involves using a beef heart as a substitute for a uterus. The similarity in composition makes beef hearts the perfect, cost-effective items for practising opening incisions and closures. Click here for more information on the various courses CNIS teaches.
Woolford has had a varied medical career, serving as an obstetrician-gynecologist for Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital in the 1980s and 1990s. She also taught at McMaster University and was the acting webmaster and a medical consultant for Laborie Medical Technologies. Woolford has been an obstetrical associate with CNIS since 2009.
While at the CFUW meeting, Woolford took great care to explain complicated procedures to the audience and to answer their questions. She also shared photos from her trips, the most recent of which was to Uganda in early April. The CFUW applauded her courage and her efforts to save lives. Woolford’s next venture will be to Tanzania in June.
To learn how you can support CNIS, click here.