It Takes a Village to Save a Life (story from One Heart Worldwide, Nepal)
19 year old Sunita Thoker of remote Gokule Village on the high slopes of Nepal's Mahabharata mountain range, was two weeks beyond due date and experiencing severe pain. The ethnic Tamang people of this region tend to marry young and have their first babies, like Sunita, by 19. It was 1am when One Heart Worldwide's District Coordinator for the area, Rabin Joshi frantically called Surya Bhatta, Executive Director for One Heart's Nepal office in Kathmandu to ask his help in evacuating Sunita by helicopter ASAP.
Sunita had missed her birth center check-up on her due date because her parents-in-law felt it wasn't necessary to be examined or give birth anywhere but home. As the pain worsened, Sunita knew she had to go nevertheless. She enlisted the help of 19-year-old husband Bikash and his elderly aunt to make the 2.5 hour journey over steep, mountainous trails, through a thick community forest, as Sunita gasped for breath and endured the pain. About 45 minutes before reaching the birth center they had to navigate a raging river, before finally arriving at the government health post. They were greeted by Mandira, an assistant nurse.
Fearing that without help she might lose mother or baby with the resources at hand, Mandira worked to stabilize the pregnant mama's condition and arrange Sunita's rescue. Mandira suspected pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition in pregnancy marked by high blood pressure, headaches, blurred vision, and swelling of the feet. If untreated it could be fatal, so there was not a moment to lose. Mandira contacted One Heart, who assured her they would help with Sunita's rescue.
One Heart's Maternal Helpline Program connected nurse Mandira to Dr. Karki on their roster of OB/Gyn's. She advised Mandira on how to keep Sunita's condition from worsening until a rescue helicopter could be authorized by government authorities. Surya, One Heart Nepal's ED continued to make calls to arrange the helicopter pick up, despite unfavorable weather. As soon as the Thokors reached the emergency ward of the nearest hospital, doctors performed a C-section (caesarian section) and were able to save both mother and baby. Hospital doctors were most impressed by the expert management and documentation of Sunita's complications, which came in handy in order to do the surgery in time.
"I went numb and could not think when my wife was fighting for her life. We did not have resources for her rescue. We are grateful for everyone who helped us during this time", said proud papa Bikash. It truly took a village and innumerable calls coordinated by One Heart as a trusted community ally to create this happy ending, especially during a global pandemic. A big shout out to One Heart Nepal's Maternity Helpline, which provides essential care, including clinical and psychological counseling to mothers-to-be and new mothers at health facilities. The free service also provides timely information to medical staff on managing complications and special services like airlifts for extreme circumstances like this one.
With gratitude to Surya Bhatta and the team at One Heart for this inspirational story of love and compassion in action, modeling a relentless commitment to the wellbeing of every mother and every baby. They have worked hard over 10 years to establish long-term community partnerships and earn the trust of local families and government officials alike.
Sunita's journey to becoming a mother is a tribute to the One Heart Worldwide track record of collaboration and careful building of local infrastructure in remote districts of Nepal.
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