Our home assignment has been a bit like the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. We returned from Papua New Guinea in early January anticipating time with family, Luka’s birth, visiting friends, speaking and traveling. Well, as you may know that’s not exactly what happened. We were able to travel a little in January and February and visit a few churches to speak before the pandemic shut things down. We were grateful for technology that allowed us to connect with those we weren’t able to visit in person, but it definitely is not the same as actually being with people.
In May we welcomed Luka Peter Radcliffe, our fifth child. Katherine had experienced complications with the pregnancy back in November of last year and we were uncertain for a time as to whether or not we’d get to meet Luka. We are so grateful for his safe arrival. He has been a source of incredible joy even in the midst of a difficult year. We had initially planned to travel back to PNG in June, but Luka didn’t not get his passport from the U.S. State Department until late August and we just received his PNG entry permit Friday which will allow us to travel.
In July, Katherine’s father, Lincoln Stevens, became ill. His condition rapidly deteriorated over the next several weeks. He ended up diagnosed with myeloid sarcoma, a rare aggressive tumor variant of acute myeloid leukemia. He passed away on September 26th. It all seemed to happen so quickly, but we are glad he did not suffer long. We are still grieving the loss of this godly man and loving father and grandfather. We are incredibly grateful that we were able to be here in the USA for the entire process. We know that this holiday season will not be an easy one for our family as we grieve many “firsts” without Grandpa Lincoln.
We would ask you to join with us in prayer as we finalize plans for traveling back to PNG. We have a small window between now and December 4th when we can travel without other significant delays. Flights are limited and restrictions abound but it is possible, albeit expensive (about three times what it would normally cost for our family). We are excited to return to the place God has called us to and are trusting that He will provide the necessary resources and logistical miracles to get us back “home.” We hope to finalize tickets departing November 23rd within the next 24-48 hours.
We wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving and Christmas season and hope to be updating you next from Papua New Guinea!
If you feel led to help get us back to PNG you can give via the following link.
This certainly has been an odd trip to the USA for our family this time around. Normally we would have spent most of this time back traveling, speaking and meeting with friends and family. However, this pandemic significantly altered those plans. Ben has had a few opportunities to record some speaking for online broadcast. We wanted to share one of those recordings with all of you. We hope this will give you a glimpse in to our lives, our call and the work we are doing at the hospital in Kudjip, PNG. We are sad that we haven’t had the chance to see you in person but will look forward to the day when we can!
Here is our prayer card in digital format since we haven’t been able to give you a “real” one. If you’d like one to place on your fridge or stick in your Bible we’d be happy to mail you one. Just drop us an email at email@example.com with your mailing address and we’ll send one your way!
I was looking at how long it’s been since the last time we put something up on our site and a realized that it’s been sixteen months. Wow! I’m pretty bad at this blog thing.
I just wanted to take a few minutes to give a quick update to where we are and what we’re doing.
We are currently back in the USA on what is called “Home Assignment.” This means we are supposed to be traveling, speaking, meeting with friends, family, supporters, taking continuing medical courses and the like. As I’m sure you can imagine the global pandemic due to COVID-19 has changed our plans significantly.
We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of baby Radcliffe (our 5th), due the first of May. This new addition to our family will be entering our world at a time of upheaval and change. In spite of that, we look forward to the future with joy and hope. We would appreciate your prayers for Katherine and baby as the time of delivery approaches.
Needless to say, COVID-19 has seriously upended our plans for traveling, speaking and meeting with people. I’m sure this incredible change in daily life has affected many of you as well. We are thankful that we are well and we pray that you also are well. It seems though, that none of us will remain unaffected personally by this pandemic. In the midst of this we want to still find away to connect with people in whatever way we can.
Even though we can’t visit you, your hospital, your home, your church or wherever you may be we would still love to connect with you if possible. Especially while we are here in the USA and have good internet access and are on a favorable timezone. For those of you elsewhere in the world we would love to connect with you as well.
If you’re interested in connecting via FaceTime, Zoom, phone or however; let’s get together! Here are some ways you can get in touch with us.
Phone: 740-485-0552 (Ben) or 740-485-0553 (Katherine)
You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Katherine does a wonderful job. Ben….not so much 😉
After quite a long hiatus from providing patient care (and no, I’m not counting all the doctoring I do at home), for the last few months I’ve returned on just a short-term basis to help in our cervical cancer screening clinic here at Kudjip while two of our other physicians are away. The White House, as we call it, serves not just our female
population, but also a growing group of patients with HIV/AIDS. I will say that after being absent from the doctor-patient relationship for a couple of years I was a little nervous about what the return to medicine might look like for me. I suppose that practicing medicine, in some ways, is a bit like riding a bicycle. There are aspects of being a physician that (for me, at least) require little to no practice. The building of a relationship and creating a space where a patient can be vulnerable are things the Lord has helped me to do with ease, much of the time. However, a doctor also needs to know things! Ha! And I feel so out-of-practice when it comes to creating differential diagnoses and choosing appropriate medication regimens. But, fortunately, I know that those things will all come back with time once I’ve returned to the hospital on a more regular basis (even though at this point I don’t know exactly when that will be).
But in the meantime, I am absolutely loving the chance to care for these precious women in our cervical cancer screening clinic. During the week, my dear friend and gifted nurse, Pauline, sees women from all over our area who have been referred to the White House for the initial screening for cervical cancer. We don’t use Pap smears here at Kudjip because they
require a sample to be taken, stored, transported, viewed by a pathologist and then results reported back to us. We’ve found that this method of screening presents a lot of challenges, including follow up for these ladies who often don’t have cell phones or who may have made a full day’s journey to get to us in the first place. So, believe it or not, we have an equally effective method to screen for cervical cancer and it utilizes something found in most kitchens—vinegar! A dilute vinegar solution causes abnormal cells on the cervix to turn white and also allows us to directly visualize (with a colposcope) other changes that are indicative of all stages of early cancer cells.
Each week Pauline sees ladies from all over our area who have been referred to the
White House for one reason or another. She does an initial evaluation on these women and then refers the more concerning cases for me to see on Wednesday mornings. Often I’ll find pre-cancerous lesions that can easily be treated with cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen that freezes abnormal cells). This is an incredibly simple and cost-effective procedure that can be done at the time of initial evaluation and it absolutely save lives. Occasionally we find pre-cancerous lesions that are more progressed and in these cases we can schedule the patient for a LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure) to be done at the hospital procedure room. And, as is sometimes the case, we discover more advanced disease. If the cancer seems localized to the cervix still, we are fortunate to have surgeons (I happen to know a good one) who can do a hysterectomy to save the woman’s life. And the
saddest cases are those that we see too late. Unfortunately, it is one of the stark realities of practicing medicine in a remote, underdeveloped place like Papua New Guinea. Some of the more advanced cancers that we see might be helped with radiation, but there’s currently not a hospital in this country that provides this service. I’m grateful that, even though we cannot always provide a life-saving measure, we CAN provide the hope of Jesus. Its really easy to feel overwhelmed by the sadness for the ones we cannot physically save and forget that there is One who provides healing of another variety that is far greater than the limited measures we can provide. And when I have the opportunity to share this very truth to the broken woman sitting before me, I realize that all of a physician’s book knowledge becomes a little less important, both for that moment and for eternity.
One of my favorite things about being a surgeon in PNG is that my children get to experience what I do in an up-close and personal way. In some ways I think it makes it much easier for them to understand the “why” when I have to leave the dinner table early or head to the ER in the middle of a bedtime story. It’s always a highlight for me when the family joins me on rounds. I think the only people who enjoy their company more than I do are my patients and the surgery ward nursing staff.
Naomi is the least shy of our four and is always there to ask questions, shake or hold a hand and greet the patients in “Tok Pisin.” The patient in this picture is a young girl who had a terrible infection of her right foot that required multiple debridements. Her heel bone ended up exposed and she’s now on wound VAC therapy to help prepare the wound for a skin graft sometime soon.
Matthias was quite fascinated by the wound VAC machine. He and Simeon always want to know how things work. They kill us with questions.
This young guy was speared in the left chest. The weapon narrowly missed the heart and injured one of the veins in his left lung. He lost a lot of blood but his family got him to the ER in time for us to help him. We thank the Lord for a team here at the hospital who can respond quickly when the need arises.
Naomi, ever the inquisitor, wanted to know why he’d been stabbed. This led to a conversation with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old about what it means to be so drunk you can’t remember what happened. Life is just filled with teachable moments.
Ever the helper, Naomi insisted that she help Daddy with the chart. I found it most helpful for her to hold the medicine reconciliation sheet so I could check the patient’s meds while I wrote orders and notes.
This man had an unfortunate encounter with his brother’s bush knife (machete). It seems that his brother was less than pleased that the patient’s pig had gotten into his garden and damaged his crops. As an old missionary surgeon I know commonly said, “With families like these, who needs enemies.”
This is Chris. He’s been my patient now multiple times. He suffers from a terrible infection in the bone of his upper arm that has required multiple operations to try and get it cleaned and healed. This picture is from the second half of rounds. The other three kids have been otherwise distracted, but not Naomi. I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s already the Chief.
Right now we are in between trainees at Kudjip. This means that on the weekends if I want company on rounds I have to bring my own junior colleagues. That’s a pretty special privilege if you ask me!
Our days at home in the last months have been full of fun celebrations, visitors, and new friends. The kids are growing at lightning speed and I only wish I could share (or remember) all of the hilarious things they’ve done and said that have kept us in stitches. But this photo blog should get you caught up on some of the other highlights on the PNG home-front!
We’ve had some great days, some long days and some challenging days here at Kudjip. It’s been a busy time of learning, stretching, growing, and relying on God, my family and my team at the hospital. We are now doing surgeries that have never been done in the highlands of PNG. Thanks to Samaritan’s Purse/World Medical Mission, Riverside Methodist Hospital, Storz, Dr. Mark Potter and Dr. Mike Pyle we’ve acquired the equipment needed to allow the people of Jiwaka Province to enjoy the benefits of laparoscopic surgery. Here are just a few of the highlights in pictures.
It’s no secret that the kids are my favorite patients.
The other thing I love is my own kids getting to meet and bring joy to my patients
However, I’ve found that toddlers tend to slow down the efficiency of morning rounds
The Hospital celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in March.
It’s not everyday you get to teach a GS (Nazarene pope for you non-nazarenes) how to prepare a mumu.
Getting ready for the 50th Anniversary mumu (traditional PNG feast).
Being a general surgeon in Papua New Guinea means that some days I do orthopedic surgery, others urologic or gynecologic, and on others, trauma, plastic or burn surgery. Variety truly is the spice of a surgeon’s life here. One of the more rewarding “surgeons” that I get to be is a pediatric surgeon.
Little Jim – needed a bowel resection because he had dead small intestine secondary to “pigbel”
Winston – had a large cyst attached to the base of his tongue that needed to be removed
Mr. Joe, one of our anesthesia officers safely putting a child to sleep for surgery
Mr. David, another one of our excellent anesthesia officers here at Kudjip also does pediatric patient transport
Kua was hit by a bus and had an open skull fracture and broke both of his femurs
Each week I have the privilege of getting to take care of children who are sick, hurting, and in need of surgical care. This past month seems to have been filled with more sick kids than usual. I wanted to share the stories of two of those children with you. Getting to take care of these small patients has been an incredible privilege.
Simpson is two-and-a-half-year-old boy who is almost the exact age of our second son, Matthias. Simpson came to the hospital short of breath and very sick. His chest x-ray showed an enlarged heart, several times bigger than normal. Based on the history of tuberculosis in his family, he was started on a course of treatment. However, after a couple of days of this his condition worsened. Dr. Erin, one of our family doctors, realized that something other than tuberculosis must be the cause. In the middle of the night he was having difficulty breathing and his blood pressure began dropping. After scanning his heart with the ultrasound, Dr. Erin drained a significant amount of pus from his pericardium (the lining that surrounds the heart). This temporarily relieved the pressure on his heart and allowed his vital signs to improve. The next morning I took him to surgery and did a procedure called a pericardial window to drain and washout the infection surrounding his heart. When we arrived in the OR we found that Simpson had no intravenous access because of the severe swelling from his infection. In the night, Erin had put in a special IV line directly into the marrow of one of his leg bones. Unfortunately, this was no longer working and we struggled to find alternate access. Simpson’s infection was so severe that it had caused a condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy (DIC), which was making the veins all over his body fill up with clots. I tried unsuccessfully to put a large IV in one of the veins in his neck, legs or upper arms.
Dr. Paul Hitchen, a visiting orthopedic surgeon from Australia, was finally able to place another IV in Simpson’s bone and this allowed us to complete the procedure.
Simpson is still in the hospital and has had several setbacks along the way, but we praise God that he will soon be going home. He’s alive today because of the Lord and thanks to the great team of doctors, nurses and volunteers we have here at Kudjip.
Remna is a ten-year-old girl who has been Simpson’s bed neighbor on the surgery ward for the past couple of weeks. Remna was initially admitted to the pediatric ward with fevers and several painful and swollen joints from septic arthritis. Unfortunately, like many of our patients, she had come to the hospital very late and her disease was extensive. Despite being started on multiple antibiotics, her infection spread and she began to have difficulty breathing and, just like Simpson, her blood pressure started to drop.
On chest x-ray, her heart, like Simpson’s, was enlarged. The ultrasound showed that her heart was struggling to beat because of all the pressure from the fluid. As we were getting ready to start the procedure to drain the fluid around her heart, her heart suddenly stopped beating and we had to begin CPR in order to save her life. I quickly placed a large needle under the edge of her breast bone and withdrew some of the fluid around her heart to relieve the pressure. Fortunately, it was thin, watery fluid and not pus. During CPR I was able to place a drain into the space around the heart that allowed the fluid to come out. The drain removed almost a liter of fluid from around her heart. During the next twenty minutes (which felt more like twenty hours) we continued CPR.
In total, Remna was defibrillated four times, but eventually she resumed a normal heart beat and regained a blood pressure. Clearly the hand of the Lord was upon Remna in those moments. The type of drain that we used to remove the fluid from her heart is not something that could be purchased here in Papua New Guinea. However, on the most recent shipment of supplies from Nazarene Hospital Foundation, we received a number of donated pericardial drain kits. This is not coincidence, but rather divine provision!
When the procedure was complete, we eventually drained the infection from her joints and then prayed that she would wake up. When we checked on her later that evening she was awake, talking, and telling her mother that she was hungry! Through her recovery she has shown no signs of any brain injury or damage. Remna still needs a lot of prayer and ongoing care. She now has a deep infection in several of her major bones (called osteomyelitis) that will require months of care, and possibly more operations in the future.
These two children represent the reward and privilege that I feel it is to care for some of the sick children who arrive at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital. They are a testament to how the Lord provides what we need exactly when we need it. Sometimes he sends the right person to do a procedure or sometimes its a medicine or specialized piece of equipment. These kids also represent the many other stories of children that I haven’t shared. Perhaps some of those stories aren’t as hopeful and unfortunately, in some cases, the families of those children continue to feel the loss of their little ones that we couldn’t save. But in the midst of it all, we know that God provides the hope, grace and comfort that each of our patients needs.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Jesus
Surgeons can do patient transport too.
Dr. Erin and I discuss patients on rounds.
Simeon, the junior consult and smile therapy director.