Sunday, July 24, 2005

Equipment Discovers a Second Life

The Kansas City Star -- In the north tower of Independence Regional Health Center, old medical supplies lay scattered, collecting layers of dust.

Four floors of the wing have been out of use for months as the hospital prepares to move into a new, $225 million facility. The old equipment — still in the same places people left it — won’t be much good when the hospital closes the doors on the old building in 2007.

Good, that is, in Independence. But very valuable and much appreciated in Ethiopia.

On Saturday, volunteers hauled tables, beds, shelves, IV towers and more downstairs and loaded them into a trailer, ready for a new life in a new country.

The equipment, valued at nearly $400,000, will be shipped to Ethiopia, to become part of the first modern hospital in Addis Ababa, a city of nearly 5 million people.

That’s like opening the first modern hospital in Chicago, James Everett said Saturday as he wheeled a tray table down the wing’s vacant halls. The Ethiopia Health Support Foundation president said that while the new Hospital Corporation of America facility in Independence won’t have a need for old tray tables and dusty shelves, they will help stock a lifesaving facility across the Atlantic.

“To them, it’s trash. To us, it’s gold,” Everett said.

For now, the equipment will fill the ground floor of an already existing building in Addis Ababa, serving as a clinic for people needing the kind of everyday treatment that doesn’t exist now in many parts of the city.

Eventually, Everett hopes, the value of the equipment will give city government leaders in Addis Ababa the incentive they need to fund a new $7 million hospital to serve an often suffering community.

The story of this equipment’s journey to Ethiopia began 15 years ago, when two college students invited Everett to dinner.

When the students, Akeza Teame and Sisay Shimelis, sat down with Everett, they told him what life was like in Ethiopia. They wanted to take what they learned at the University of Kansas back with them to their home country, to help the people there live better lives.

They wanted to create something great in Ethiopia, but they didn’t know what. The two had heard that Everett helped students in similar situations before, and hoped that their excitement to help would rub off on him.

But Everett was skeptical, he said. He had seen it before: all youthful enthusiasm and no plan.

“Listen,” Everett recalled telling them. “Come back in two years, and then we’ll talk.”

He didn’t think he’d see them again.

Two years later, like clockwork, Teame called Everett and asked if the two could meet again. Now focused on getting a medical degree, he told Everett of his new goal to create a modern hospital to help treat the hordes of diseases that plague many Ethiopians.

All they needed was the money, and the dream could become reality.

Everett told Teame and Shimelis to draft a plan, and they did. After extensive revision, they presented the plan to officials in Ethiopia, the World Bank and elsewhere.

The plan was shot down. So the group turned to the city government for help.

Finally, the group struck a deal with leadership in Addis Ababa, Everett said. If the group could collect $600,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies and get it to the city, the city would pay for the construction of the hospital.

Then, suddenly, the group had a new quest — to find medical equipment, preferably free.

By then, the mission had become as much Everett’s dream as that of the two Ethiopian students, he said.

So, with the two students now long since graduated and living on the East Coast, Everett began to search Kansas City for sources for the equipment.

And when Independence Regional was taken over by HCA, the hospital was suddenly full of equipment ready to be replaced, said Matt Smithmier, a spokesman for the hospital.

Saturday was moving day, and friends of Everett, Teame and Shimelis took turns loading the cargo into the first of three trailers they’ll send to Ethiopia by boat.

The plans now are to be up and running in the existing building later this year.

And if all the equipment comes through, Everett said, he wants the new facility’s opening to coincide with the opening of the new Independence hospital, in the summer of 2007.

He said he thinks they have $200,000 in equipment already, and this is just the first shipment. He’s keeping his fingers crossed, he said, but he was beginning to realize: The dream’s getting closer.

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