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Medical team packs up for Tibet
Utahns to focus on birth woes, TB, malnutrition

The women's stories draw Arlene Samen back to Tibet. When she was there last year with a humanitarian group, women from small villages told her that babies and sometimes mothers died during birth. And of the babies that live, many are born with severe disabilities.

It was achingly clear to the certified nurse practitioner that many women in Tibet didn't have access to primary health care.That's about to change, at least temporarily. Samen told doctors and nurses in the University of Utah Medical School's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology what she'd seen. Now a team of them are leaving June 29 on their own humanitarian health mission.

At the invitation of Dr. Lu Xiang, director of the People's Hospital in Lhasa, they plan to hold prenatal classes and train Tibet's doctors and nurses to try to combat those devastating maternal and fetal death rates. They hope to also reduce the number of birth defects by emphasizing prenatal care.

Dr. Michael Varner, chief of the division of maternal-fetal medicine; Samen; Dr. Roger Brecheen; Dr. Michael A. Belfort; and certified midwife Theresa Lerch will provide obstetric and gynecologic care. Dr. Kathleen Digre, a professor of neurology and ophthalmology; Dr. John Speed, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation; and Dr. Carol Osborn, assistant professor of family and preventive medicine, will round out the team. Lerch and Brecheen are from Jackson Hole, Wyo. The rest are from the U.

Several other volunteers are going along, as well.

Digre will offer special insights into dealing with head injuries, seizure disorders (many people last year asked Samen what to do), migraines and strokes. Speed will teach them rehabilitation tricks.

Besides teaching, they hope to learn. Tibet has a very low rate of preterm labor, believed to be due to an herbal medicine that's used there. And Tibetans also use their native medicine to prevent breech births. They also cope with migraine headaches in ways that are very different than those employed in America. The American team hopes to learn about all these things.

One of the big efforts will be to train lay midwives because so many Tibetan women have their babies at home in their villages. They need assistance.

And some of the effort will be on common medical problems. In Tibet, tuberculosis is widespread. So is malnutrition, said Samen. Farming is a major occupation so the people deal with a lot of farm injuries. Stomach ulcers, hypertension and diabetes also plague the country.

Team members believe they can help.

Finally, they hope to conduct research in Tibet on the incidence and outcome of pulmonary edema in newborns at high altitude. Lhasa's 12,000-foot elevation seems to have an adverse effect on babies born to women from other, lower-altitude areas.

The medical supplies are being donated by pharmaceutical companies. O.C. Tanner and June and Mitch Morris of Morris Travel provided donations to cover part of the costs.

To find out more about the Tibetan project or to donate, call Lynn Ward, 581-6606.