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A Doctor's Inspiring Contribution in Ethiopia

Oct 22
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Dr. Karl "Fritz" Disque is a successful anesthesiologist and entrepreneur in the Las Vegas and Chicago areas. Yet he spends much of his time teaching medical courses and providing health care to people in other countries. These experiences encouraged him to establish the Disque Foundation, which focuses on improving the quality and availability of health care in developing countries.

He developed this strong interest in international medicine while serving as a medical volunteer for the earthquake relief effort in Haiti. In the wake of this experience, he traveled to Ethiopia to assist the medical personnel in this country with much needed medical training and education.

His involvement was a collaborative effort between the Disque Foundation and a similar non-profit organization called Health Volunteers Overseas. Dr. Disque served as an instructor for Ethiopia’s first Nurse Anesthetists Master’s program, which services Black Lion Hospital, the largest Tertiary hospital in Ethiopia, and Alert Hospital, the largest Leprosy and Tuberculosis treatment site in Eastern Africa.

Dr. Disque spent the majority of his time teaching Ethiopian nurse anesthetists how to perform regional nerve blockades—commonly known as a nerve block. This technique involves injecting a local anesthetic around the nerves to temporarily control pain. Anesthetists in the United States have used this process for years. This is a novel technique for the students in Ethiopia and it helped them make great strides in anesthetic management.

While he spent the majority of his time training the nurses, they were able to teach him a few things about resourcefulness. Ethiopia is considered one of the most progressive African countries in medical care. Nevertheless, the standards are not congruent with those found in American operating rooms. “With frequent power outages and the overall lack of resources, it was a real exercise in creativity, " says Disque. "We had to learn to do the very best with what was available. The nurses taught me nearly 50 alternative uses for IV tubing. It was truly amazing!"

During his stay in Ethiopia, he discovered just how far behind their medical acumen was compared to that in the United States. He learned that Leprosy and Polio victims were still prevalent. He also learned that the compensation for the nursing staff is very low for the type of work they do. "Most of the nurses I instructed had jobs after they completed their training," said Disque. "They often worked overnight at private clinics to handle emergencies. Their salary for this work is around 200 birr, which amounts to roughly $12. In the United States, the same shift would be paid over 100 times that." Without budget increases and additional education for the medical professionals, an improvement in patient care and accommodations for ailing patients in this country will not likely occur anytime soon.

"Due to limited operating room availability, many simple procedures were not being completed, " said Disque. "However, after we introduced the technique of regional nerve blocks, they no longer needed the patient to undergo general anesthesia. This allowed the surgeon to perform the surgery without a formal operating room. We started performing surgical procedures in the hallways, and making procedure rooms out of what were once closets! Full power outages were common. During these times, we used cell phones as a light source for the surgeons!"

After his month-long stay in Ethiopia, Dr. Disque returned to the United States with a renewed sense of professional commitment and appreciation for the tremendous opportunities there are available to help those who are less fortunate. "I have lived a very lucky life. I was born into an amazing family at the right time and geographical location. I have had opportunities that are absolutely uncommon to those outside the developed world," he said. "One way to show this appreciation is through giving back, and strangely, the rewards are far greater than what you give."

Dr. Disque hopes that the inspirational nature of his experiences abroad will encourage others to find a cause that they feel strongly about and do their best to improve the lives of others.