Junior Lily Toto starts fundraiser to support hospital in Tanzania

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Credit: Courtesy of Lily Toto

Above is junior Lily Toto (third from left) in front of the Morogoro Regional Hospital in Tanzania. Toto spent three weeks in Africa as part of a medical program, and she is now raising money to buy equipment for the hospital. "I’d say [the program] made me so much more aware of how so many people in the world live," Toto said.

While it’s common for many WHS students to participate in summer internships, most students haven’t had an experience similar to junior Lily Toto’s. Toto spent three weeks at a medical program called Gap Medics in Tanzania at the Morogoro Regional Hospital. She is currently raising money to purchase new equipment for the hospital.

Toto joined the program because of her interest in medicine. She wanted to do a program in which she could actually see operations; in the United States, there are many regulations that make it hard to witness procedures.

Volunteers from ages 16 to 18 participated in the program and shadowed a doctor in a different department each week. Toto shadowed doctors in internal medicine, general medicine and obstetrics and gynecology. Toto’s involvement consisted of observing the doctors and sometimes helping them out with minor tasks.

Toto observed surgeries, autopsies, Cesarean-sections and births. Some of the diseases and illnesses she witnessed were tuberculosis, heart disease, AIDS, diabetes, strokes, leprosy and malaria.

“It was a really good experience to see all of the different operations, but at the same time it was disturbing to see everything because you’d see people die there, and it got really intense,” Toto said. “But because there were no regulations, you could actually go in and do all these things.”

Impacted by the poor conditions of the hospital, Toto decided to start a fundraiser.

Toto stated that the hospital was dirty and lacked basic equipment. Many of the beds did not have mattresses. The intensive care unit (ICU) had only three beds, an oxygen tank and a mostly-empty cabinet. Needles and gloves were reused, and honey was poured into the incision of a Cesarean-section as an antiseptic. The freezer in the morgue was broken, causing it to smell bad. Women gave birth on cots next to each other. Sometimes the electricity would go out during operations, and the doctors would have to wait until it went back on.

According to Toto, there was one specific moment that made her want to raise money the most.

One morning, she witnessed a 15-year-old boy having seizures and foaming at the mouth. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong, but they thought he might have complicated malaria. After a few hours, she went to see him in the ICU, but he was already dead.

“That was probably the most disturbing and horrible thing that I saw there. He was my age, and it was really just horrible to see how just a kid, a teenager, would die there. If he were in America or the UK, then he probably would have survived,” Toto said.

Despite the negatives, Toto observed some positive aspects of the hospital.

“The doctors there were really wonderful. They were all so dedicated, and they tried to make the best of everything,” Toto said. “[It was good to see] the dedication of the doctors, since they really were dealing with all these difficulties, and they tried just so hard. You could see when they did succeed with things, and it was really happy.”

Toto’s experience in Africa made her realized how much more privileged hospitals in the United States are.

“Growing up in Wayland, you don’t really see anything like this, and when you see poverty you don’t see it on this level. When you think of poverty, you think, ‘Oh, someone can’t buy an iPhone.’ Here it’s like, ‘Oh, they can’t afford malaria medication,’” Toto said.

Toto is working to raise money to buy equipment for the hospital, such as a nebulizer machine, an oxygen concentrator, cots, thermometers and other supplies.

Toto shares that the program made her appreciate her everyday life more overall.

“It really makes you appreciate everything. I’d say it made me so much more aware of how so many people in the world live,” Toto said. “With all these really hard things, they still try to overcome them and try to find happiness in all these small things.”

Toto’s fundraising page and information can be viewed here.