Watching a newborn baby die because of lack of medicine and medical equipment was hard on Richmond’s Micah Au.
The 20-year-old wanted to put his emergency medical responder skills to good use so he spent seven weeks in Ghana, where he stayed with an English-speaking host family.
“I wanted to do something meaningful,” said Au. “Typically, each summer I would go volunteer as a camp staff cadet in Vernon, but I aged out at 19.”
So, he did a little research online and liked what he read about the Volta Aid Foundation (www.voltaaidfoundation.org).
However, he didn’t expect to see babies die.
In a blog which the 20-year-old wrote while in Africa, Au spoke about that baby boy: “I had just walked into the labour ward when I saw this newly born baby boy. His colour was a horrifying grey-blue and I thought for a second that I had just walked in on a baby that had died.
“He then started moving a little bit and once they gave him oxygen his colour improved. It was decided that he needed a higher level of care, so the doctor referred him to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. I was responsible for him during the transport.
“The oxygen tank didn’t fit inside the oxygen compartment of the hospital’s ambulance so they placed it in the main compartment, secured with nothing but two rocks. Again, there were absolutely no medical supplies inside so I demanded that I have an ambu-bag, an oral airway and suction before I left.
“There was no way I was going to allow myself to be caught unable to care for him because I didn’t have the right equipment. He was still alive when we arrived in Accra … A couple of days afterward, we found out he had died in hospital two days after he arrived. That was hard. He’s the first patient who I’ve worked on that I’ve ever lost.”
The Richmond secondary graduatesaid the journey was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride.
“The toughest memories I have are of watching young patients die … it was tragic,” he said. “You don’t know what they could have accomplished had they had better health care. There were lots of ‘what ifs’ and ‘could haves’ for me.”
Having said that, there were many positive moments as well. “One of the moms at the hospital named her baby boy after me. That was very exciting… people in Ghana, in general, are warm, kind, polite and very welcoming.”
Au paused for a moment to talk about the biggest lesson gleaned from his experience in Africa.
“The importance of treating patients as people,” said the thoughtful young man.
“The medical staff there is very competent, but there’s a lack of bedside manner … they didn’t explain to the patients what they needed, they simply told them.
“I treated them as a person, calling them by name and explaining what I was going to do, rather than only taking care of the task at hand.”
Au is a young man who is committed to his community and his father, Chak Au, couldn’t be prouder. Chak Au told the News that his son has always been active in humanitarian activities locally and overseas.
“He has participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer four years in a row; he received the City of Richmond U-Roc Award twice and the Canada Day Youth Award by the federal government (for promoting Canadian values internally) in 2009,” Chak Au said. “I wish his story can inspire other young people in our community.”
Micah Au wanted readers to know he’s not the only one from the Richmond Incentive program to volunteer around the world.
“Paige Zhang and Adam Chagani are the other two incentive graduates who are currently in, or will be going to, Africa to volunteer this year,” he said.
Come the fall, Au will enter his fourth year at Simon Fraser University.
“I’m studying criminology and I’m still not sure whether I want to go into policing, firefighting or Para medicine,” he said.