Medical missions: 6 months in Malawi
“The very first time we ever spoke about Malawi was two years ago,” says Emma. “Andrew came in one night and was like, “I’ve got some really exciting news, but I’ll wait to share it with you until we are going to sleep.” I was thinking, ‘Oh, what could it be? I hope it’s really exciting, like we are getting a puppy or going on holiday!’ So, as we are getting ready to go to bed, he quickly asks, ‘How would you feel about moving to Malawi?’”
Andrew and Emma Walls came to Blantyre from Northern Ireland in August 2018 and volunteered with CURE Malawi for six months. Andrew is a trained orthopedic surgeon in the UK, assisting with patient surgeries in the CURE operating room, while Emma, who has a background in occupational therapy, assists our physiotherapy department. Andrew and Emma both bring a tremendous amount of joy to not only the patients at CURE but also to the staff with their dry humor and subtle jokes.
“I’m a Mr. (the title for male surgeons in the UK), but I liked to be called Andrew,” Andrew said. “I’ve always been interested in medicine, and liked the thought of surgery from an early age. I wasn’t really pushed into it. I guess I got the grades and people suggested it to me, so I just went for it because I enjoy helping people.”
“The truth is, I applied to lots of things. Well, I applied to nursing, primary teaching, radiography, and OT school,” Emma explained. “I didn’t really want to be a nurse, but I wanted to do something in healthcare that would help people.” Emma feels fortunate that she can give back by volunteering at the Beit CURE International Hospital alongside her husband. She assists with patients in the physio room, helping them to gain strength and get used to their new bodies, as well as in the plaster room where the babies and young children go for casting.
“The occupational therapy I do at home is community based, so I’m experienced in going to people’s houses with the equipment, build-ons, adaptions that goes along with it, all which is very different from what I’m doing here. At the hospital, it’s more hands-on and physical. It’s definitely more physical therapy, but I’ve learned so much.” Emma is grateful that she not only gets to teach the physio team what she knows but also gets to learn from them.
“One thing about orthopedics is that you see very quick results from your surgery,” Andrew shared. “You see someone with a very bent leg, and then you see it straight shortly after the surgery.” Andrew finds seeing immediate results to be very satisfying and rewarding. “It’s very technical, and I enjoy hammers, drills, metal, and all that kind of stuff. It’s like glorified carpentry,” he says as he smiles. Andrew has been a great asset to the hospital, and the patients are blessed to have him. They have been very happy with the outcome of their surgeries. He carries around lollipops in his backpack, leaving one on each post-up patient’s bed, so they have something exciting to wake up to after surgery.
“I have loved it! I actually genuinely have; I’ve loved it. I just think it’s the best team to work with at the hospital,” Emma beams as she speaks about the physio department she works with at CURE Malawi. “They are so kind, and they’re teaching me loads, and they are very patient with me. I will really miss them and all their craic!” (Craic is an Irish term for enjoyable conversation.)
Andrew shares the same sentiments with Emma. He has loved his experience at the hospital, and he will be encouraging other doctors to take time out to volunteer with CURE Malawi and make a positive impact in the kids’ lives.
“I’ve been to CURE before. I’ve been to CURE Zambia with a few other orthopedic and plastic surgeons,” states Andrew. “I was hearing about CURE through lots of orthopedic conferences, and Chris Lavy, who I met through Christian Medical Fellowship, is a big supporter of CURE,” Andrew continues. “I met a missionary surgeon when I was at CURE Zambia who then put me in contact with the surgeon here at CURE Malawi, Kyle James.”
Chris encouraged Andrew to take six months out of his life to go to Blantyre, Malawi, to serve the young patients suffering from multiple orthopedic disabilities. He knew that Andrew had not only the skill and love for traveling but also the heart to take on the challenge.
“I think Kyle James is an amazing surgeon. He has great experience, and I find him a pleasure to work with,” says Andrew. Andrew has learned a lot from the medical staff at the hospital. He goes on to say, “Kyle has been very good to me. He lets me operate regularly and gives me lots of training opportunities. He’s taught me so much. I’m really grateful to work with him.” At the same time, all of the doctors and medical students have thoroughly enjoyed working with Andrew during his time at CURE. His experience and caring hands will be missed in the operating room.
Regarding his and Emma’s future plans, Andrew says, “I will need to finish my training in the next couple of years. Then we are probably going to do one or two years of fellowship away and either go to Vancouver, Melbourne, or come back here.”
Emma pauses, looks at Andrew, and laughs as she says, “Kids!” Andrew smiles in full agreement. She has had plenty of experience at the hospital holding babies, soothing toddlers, and laughing with youngsters!
CURE Malawi will miss them greatly, and we wish them the best of luck in the future. We hope to see them again!