Get to Know the 2019 MedicalMissions.org Physician of the Year
Warren Cooper, MD
Surgeon, Nyankunde Hospital, Eastern Congo
Dr. Warren Cooper resides in Eastern Congo and has served for the past seven years at Nyankunde Hospital through Christian Health Service Corps. Currently, he’s the only fully trained surgeon within hundreds of miles. Nyankunde Hospital has a somber history; in 2002 it was attacked by a tribal militia. Several thousand patients and staff members were tortured and killed over the course of a few days. He was one of the first doctors to serve at the hospital when it reopened a few years later.
What drew Dr. Cooper into medical missions?
Dr. Cooper was raised by missionaries, which allowed him to grow up in the unindustrialized world. Although he described the experience of living in developing countries as wonderful, it also exposed him to the incredible suffering those without access to care face. His experiences made him feel as though he was being called to places where he would be able to utilize his skills to serve the poor and the underprivileged.
Dr. Cooper has served overseas ever since completing his surgical training in 1997. His first assignment was in Bangladesh, but he’s also served in 23 other countries, including Niger, Ghana, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti.
What is Christian Health Service Corps?
Christian Health Service Corps (CHSC) is an interdenominational Christian ministry made up of doctors, health professionals and health educators who are serving the poor and those without access to healthcare in fifteen countries around the world. The organization does not specifically run hospitals or clinics but works through various existing health care structures. Dr. Cooper and his wife, Dr. Lindsey Cooper, are sent through CHSC but work at Nyankunde Hospital alongside Congolese healthcare professionals and medical missionaries from other organizations. Dr. Lindsey Cooper is a pediatrician and is actively involved in other initiatives including a feeding program for malnourished children and a farming program for women. She is also working to construct a play area for the children at the hospital.
CHSC provides the logistical support and encouragement allowing them to serve in this setting. The organization facilitates various programs, such as ones for malnourished and destitute, it has also helped strengthen the infrastructure of the hospital. In the future, Dr. Cooper hopes CHSC will be able to continue to fulfill a valuable role for the many dedicated healthcare professionals who desire to serve, and he also hopes it will continue to grow as an organization.
What is Nyankunde Hospital?
In Dr. Cooper’s own words,
“Nyankunde Hospital is a place with a complicated history. For more than 50 years, this hospital has served Eastern Congo. It was initially established as a mission hospital, but in the late 1990s the political situation made it difficult for foreigners to work here and the direction of the hospital was incrementally turned over to Congolese leadership. In 2002, the hospital was the target of tribal violence. On September 5th, 2002 the hospital was attacked by a tribal militia. During several days of horrifying carnage, several thousands of people were killed. Patients were murdered in their beds and hospital staff were tortured and killed. The survivors fled on foot. The hospital was destroyed and looted. It seemed that that Nyankunde Hospital was a closed book. The bush claimed the ruined buildings.
Several years later, a few Congolese nurses and doctors returned to Nyankunde and established a small clinic. When I arrived for my first visit, they had resumed hospital activities under austere conditions. We did surgery under a car headlight that had been rigged to a leaky ceiling. It was not ideal. I was impressed, however, at the work that was being done, largely without help from the outside world. I visited several times over the next couple of years and eventually Samaritan’s Purse undertook the huge task of building an OR/ICU. I made a commitment to stay for two years and do surgical training. That two years has turned into seven, and our family is pleased to call this our home.
It is not an easy place to work. Conditions are very basic, though we function as a referral center for a large catchment area. I find myself having to fix medical equipment, trouble-shoot our electrical system and perform a whole host of responsibilities which would seem to be out of the realm of surgical care. I try to focus on surgical training, but I work with doctors who have a very limited medical education. For the past year we have operated under the specter of an Ebola outbreak. This has rendered every aspect of medical more challenging. We have dealt with insecurities on many levels. At the present time our region is experiencing unrest due to an armed militia which is becoming more active. Scarcely a day goes by when I do not receive several patients with gunshot wounds. Despite all of this, we wouldn’t want to be any other place.
My wife Lindsey is a pediatrician. In addition to her work keeping a household running, she serves in the hospital taking care of sick kids. She is also involved with many other programs, such as a feeding program for malnourished kids and a farming initiative with women. At the present time she is busy constructing a play area for children at the hospital. The idea that play is integral to the well-being and recovery of children is a novel idea in this part of the world. When the playground opens, it will be a source of great joy to children who pass through this hospital.
Today I performed an open prostatectomy on a man who was bleeding from the surface of a massively enlarged prostrate. Without surgery I fear that he would have simply bled to death. Yesterday I performed an endoscopy on a six-year old child who was vomiting blood. I identified an arteriovenous malformation that was bleeding and was able to apply a small rubber band to stop the bleeding. I also operated on a man who had a tree fall on him. He had been in traction for two months at a neighboring hospital, but his femur fracture showed no signs of healing. We were able to insert a steel rod down his femur. Other recent cases include a pancreatic pseudocyst and a child with Hirschsprung’s disease. We have had several operations for gunshot wounds, including several with vascular injuries. Almost every day I see several patients with open fractures from motorcycle accidents. In short, it is a busy and varied practice and it stretches me to my limits and beyond.”
“We have the privilege of serving in Eastern Congo because we feel called to do so. We do not seek any recognition and this award is nothing less than astounding. I do hope this account will encourage health care workers to value humanitarian service as a valuable and fun thing to do. I hope that others are inspired to seek ways to share their skills in needy parts of the world.”
Creating a sustainable healthcare environment
Dr. Cooper and his wife feel privileged to work and raise their family in Eastern Congo. They appreciate the opportunity to share their faith with patients and their families. He believes that in Africa, there is a much more holistic approach to medicine that broaches the barrier between the physical and the spiritual, which he enjoys.
He explained that visiting doctors sometimes fall into a trap of thinking they are there to accomplish great things and leave frustrated when they feel like they have not done enough. Part of his service includes an emphasis on education. He realizes the significance of empowering others by teaching him the skills he possesses so that they can make a difference, too. “I have tried to model for these young doctors what it means to use my skills in the service of mankind. I know that one day I will leave, and I want to leave something behind,” Dr. Cooper explained.