Last week was our Papa’s 85th birthday and we had a wonderful birthday party!
We have every reason to celebrate – the life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 50 years, so it is truly a remarkable feat and a blessing for us to be able to celebrate his 85th birthday.
It seems that every other day in Freetown, there is a funeral for one young person or the other, reminding us of the fragility of our existence, and the importance of quick and easy access to basic and advanced medical care.
One of my biggest fears about returning home is knowing that health emergencies can happen at anytime, and knowing that the Sierra Leonean health system has a lot of challenges.
Shekou and I spent a lot of time debating the pros and cons of moving, and healthcare was a definite con, but at the end of the day, we realized that we had to be part of the change to help improve the healthcare system, and that fear of possible health emergencies shouldn’t keep us away.
I lose all medical sense when my kids get sick – I become like any other mother, sick with worry and wanting everything done immediately. I must say that our decision to move back home was definitely helped by the fact that their Dad is an urgent care pediatrician who is used to handling real and imagined pediatric emergencies calmly.
I still worry about the possibility of being in a motor vehicle accident and not having urgent access to appropriate emergency care, or about being put in a situation where I have to perform surgery on a family member, but I decided to stop worrying, and to come home and help be part of the change.
I have had to sew up a hand laceration with a pumping arterial bleeder for Shekou before – so I know I can do it if needed, but I would prefer not to undergo that kind of stress! During one of our trips home to work in a clinic up country, Shekou put his hand through a glass window and created quite a bloodbath in the middle of the night, in a location where the nearest hand surgeon was probably thousands of miles away. Thankfully, we had all the supplies to sew up his laceration and I kept it together long enough to do it without any major complications!
That said, we are so thankful for our Dad’s life and his health.
We had quite a birthday party for him – my sister who is the best event planner you can find, transformed his house into a spectacular venue where his friends and family came together to celebrate his remarkable life.
I will tell his complete remarkable story one day, but briefly, my father was born in a small village called Penlap in 1932. His survival at birth was in itself remarkable – he was the only surviving triplet, who likely survived because an American Missionary was around to provide urgent medical care when his mom was in labor! A physician from Michigan called Dr. Frank Richard Birch was working in Sierra Leone with the American Wesleyan Mission in Binkolo and happened to hear of triplets being born in the village. He had my grandmother brought to the mission and helped care for them.
My Dad remembers the story to this day and continues to tell it! In fact, he memorized Dr. Birch’s home address in Michigan and told it to me to try to locate him – I tried for years but was unable to!
Dr. Birch was not only a doctor who established hospitals, he also taught at the Binkolo boys school and educated my dad and many others. He served as a missionary in Sierra Leone from 1919-1945.
Dr. Birch had 3 kids who were also physicians and missionaries in Sierra Leone. A son – Dr. Larry Harmon Birch, was a prominent cardiologist in Jacksonville, Florida who died in 2009 and had sons called Richard and Robert, and five grandchildren – Charles, Scott, Christopher, Craig, and Shelley. He also had 2 daughters – Dr. Marilyn Birch and Dr. Marion Birch.
In case there are super sleuths out there, please help me find Dr. Birch’s grandkids so that I can say thanks on behalf of my Dad who has wanted to say thanks for many years now!
This American missionary who helped save my Dad’s life and helped educate him as a child, allowed my Dad to become one of the few African children of his generation who had the opportunity to receive an education and to go to college. He studied in England and became one of the first Sierra Leonean Diamond valuators in the 1950s, was instrumental in guiding our new government after Independence, and served Sierra Leone for decades in various positions as Minister of Health, Finance, Energy & Power etc. My Dad had 20 kids who now live all over the world, and I am humbled and forever grateful that he had quick access to a Doctor’s care 85 years ago, when he and his mom needed it!