Northside nurse flies on wings of service

Ghanaian-born Atlantan inspired by her own experiences

Mother and infant mortality remains a critical issue across the globe

For more information on this topic, read the World Health Organization’s publication Africa’s newborns — counting them and making them count.

By Jon Waterhouse

Hanan Waite, a neonatal nurse at Northside Hospital, knows firsthand the challenges at hospitals in third world countries and the often tragic results of those challenges.

Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, Waite lost both of her parents at an early age due to the country’s lack of basic healthcare. After being adopted by an aunt and uncle, she relocated to America in 1997.

In 2011, Waite gave birth to her son, Ramzi, two-and-a-half months prematurely at Northside. A 10-week stint in the neonatal intensive care found the fragile infant’s good days flip-flopping with bad. Preeclampsia threatened the lives of both Waite and her baby.

Although the pair eventually thrived and survived, a recurring thought haunted Waite for the next year.

What would I have done if I were in Ghana?

“If I had been there,” she said, “neither of us would have made it.”

The negative reputation of Ghana’s hospitals looms large with minimal staff, rampant corruption, and lack of funds, supplies and equipment. According to the CIA World Factbook, an estimated 38.52 deaths per 1,000 live births took place in Ghana last year. And Waite wants to help decrease that number.

A year after her son’s birth, Waite says she decided to stop thinking and start doing. The concept of Earth’s Angels came out of her concern for mothers and babies in her homeland. Waite envisioned a non-profit that would improve “mother and infant mortality one mother and baby at a time.”

Lacking the funds to hire a lawyer, Waite dove in herself doing the appropriate research and filling out mounds of paperwork. In 2013, Earth’s Angels became a 501(c)(3) organization, allowing Waite to take off and fly.

Her initial mission saw Waite focusing Earth’s Angels’ efforts on Ridge Hospital in Accra, Ghanna, and its neonatal, obstetric and pediatric units. She chose Ridge due to its thin staff.

Fundraising gave Earth’s Angels the ability to send medical supplies, diapers, clothing, infant food, formula and a host of other items. When time came to send the third shipment in September of 2014, Waite delivered the goods herself.

“Part of my promise is to make sure these items are delivered and put in the hands of those who need them most,” Waite explained. “And being from Ghana, I am able to do that. I speak the local vernacular. I’m able to get it in the hands of those who actually need it, despite the corruption, which is part of the problem.”

Waite and her team of volunteers not only brought the supplies to the hospital, but jumped in and did hands-on work. They worked alongside the doctors and nurses Waite had been communicating with long distance throughout the previous two years.

The work, Waite says, gave her and her team a strong sense of accomplishment, no doubt due to the horror stories she’s heard regarding Ghanaian hospitals.

When she founded Earth’s Angels, Waite recalls hearing firsthand accounts from a medical student about hospital conditions in Ghana. Tales of as many as three babies sharing a single incubator and sleeping in their own feces, because there wasn’t enough staff to regularly change diapers, shocked Waite.

Although Ridge Hospital remains on the road to improvement with more funding and a better equipped staff, other hospitals in Ghana aren’t. Horrendous reports keep coming. While in Ghana in September, Waite captured reports from Ghanaian citizens for a video documentary currently available on the Earth’s Angels website. A man told her how he lost his hospital bed to another person who paid more money for the accommodations than he did. She heard stories of women delivering their babies on the hospital floor, and others getting beaten during labor and delivery, because they were crying while they were pushing.

Stories like these continue to inspire Waite’s mission. Earth’s Angels plans to raise funds at its second annual gala event and silent auction this summer. Monies will support a return trip to Ghana later this year. This time Waite and her crew plan on venturing into the outskirts of Ghana and visiting villages where mothers and babies typically have no medical care at all. Earth’s Angels will provide supplies and teaching tools to lay midwives in the area.

Earth’s Angels, however, doesn’t strictly confine its work out of the country. According to Waite, simultaneously working with mothers and babies on the local level in the Atlanta area remains “crucial.” Last year, Earth’s Angels began working with the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter in Buford, which provides a residence for mothers and children in need. In 2014, Earth’s Angels made a financial contribution as well as a gift donation of infant diapers and clothing.

Watching her vision become a reality encourages Waite to push Earth’s Angels further with hopes of expanding into other regions and countries. She does this while juggling a marriage, two children and her career at Northside.

“I guess I can sound cliche and say that it’s my passion,” Waite said. “It makes me happy to know that even though I’m one woman and this is [a small organization] that even if I can save 12 babies, that’s huge. …I work on Earth’s Angels every single day when I have time once I put my children to bed. The happiness and passion are the fuel, and it has been for the past three years now.”

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