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Midwife RN sets off on mission of mercy

South Boston News
Stephanie Eales at her South Boston home-office. / December 26, 2013

Eight months ago, Stephanie Eales of South Boston was looking for additional training that might prove useful in her career as a Certified Professional Midwife and RN. She landed on an unusual opportunity: an overseas conference on maternal mortality prevention and disaster preparation.

She signed up for the seminar, slated for January.

In the Philippines.

Having no idea at the time that the seminar would turn into a hands-on relief effort, Eales is preparing in early January to travel to the scene of one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history: Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on Nov. 8 with sustained winds of over 195 mph and a storm surge up to 30 feet that devastated the island nation’s coastal areas.

She is going to Subic Bay, described in conference materials as a “lush tropical setting,” where the event was organized to cover three main topics: child survival, maternal mortality prevention, and preparation for disasters.

What was envisioned as a training session to prepare for a hypothetical disaster has become the real thing.

“My first reaction,” said Eales, “was to wonder, what does this mean for my training. But then I felt honored that God was calling me to do this, to be his hands and feet, serving people in need.”

She is participating in the relief effort through Mercy In Action, a faith-based, non-profit organization founded 25 years ago that focuses on maternal and newborn health and primary health care for children under age five in poor areas of the world.

Eales is heading to the Philippines over a two-week span to care for children and expectant mothers, not knowing for sure, exactly, what to expect.

The storm displaced an estimated 600,000 people — Haiyan also claimed 6,000 lives — and left entire communities in desperate need of shelter, water and food. There are already groups on the ground focusing on rebuilding of homes like Habitat for Humanity. For the most part, Eales says she plans to concentrate on meeting medical needs and using her midwifery skills to care for women during labor and delivery, prenatal and newborn care, and offer guidance with breastfeeding.

It’s a task to which she brings extensive experience: “I’ve probably seen more natural births — with no medication — than most doctors.”

Thanks to her additional training as a registered nurse, she can also dress wounds, treat medical emergencies, administer medications, and establish treatment plans, if needed.

Eales, who resides at Grove Avenue with her husband and two children, is heading to the Philippines with the help of family, friends and church.

“It seemed as if God was calling me there,” said Eales. “The money came through [to cover the training and travel costs], my mother agreed to watch the kids, and my husband said ‘yes, go.’”

The congregation of her church, Faith Community in South Boston, became a part of the mission, collecting vitamins and sanitary supplies for Filipino mothers and children. Eales will carry these supplies with her when she travels to the Philippines on Jan. 4. She is due to return Jan. 19.

One product Eales will not bring with her is infant formula. This may be surprising to many people, but Eales explains that there is seldom enough formula available for the children living in disaster areas. When it runs out, toddlers are fed rice flour, mixed with water, which all too often is unclean. This leads to dysentery, and because these “infants don’t have the reserves to fight off the effects of dysentery, they die.”

The ones who do not succumb to dysentery typically suffer from malnutrition, since the flour and water mixture doesn’t provide the nutrients that infants require. Also, mothers do not think they can return to nursing their child, said Eales.

In addition to collecting supplies, Eales is preparing herself for the cultural differences she expects to encounter by reading three books: “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” “Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette,” and “Birth Models That Work.”

As much as possible, Eales said she wants to provide aid and comfort, and not commit any cultural affront: “We Americans tend to be very direct, but I’ve read that the people of the Philippines tend to be more reserved, and while I’m usually not hard to get along with, I want to make certain that I don’t insult anyone.”

On January 4, Eales will take off for Cebu Island in the Philippines, traveling with other midwives and medical professionals from Canada, Australia and Switzerland. Even though she has been practicing midwifery for four years, she expects to spend the first few days receiving specialized training at the Mercy in Action Birthing Center on Cebu, before heading to Leyte, one of the harder hit islands among the Philippine chain.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” said Eales.

Already, Eales knows that the hardest part of the trip, besides missing her husband and children, will be leaving the people in the Philippines when it is time for her return: “I already see myself going back.”

Typhoon Haiyan affected approximately 9.5 million people across the Philippines, and displaced at least 600,000. The storm is estimated to have destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path as it tore into the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar.

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Stephanie Eales' goal is praiseworthy. The extent to which she will be permitted to have an impact in 2 weeks in the Philippines is doubtful.

Do not understand why persons so purpose driven seek outside their backyards for validation and recognition. Just seems that there is a vanity in not only their skills and motivation, but also their affiliations.

What is really important? Your glory or the extent to which one helps a person? Who measures the importance or value of a kind and helping act. Seems to me that Mrs. Eales would be far better off in learning easily about pregnancies in this area, and then helping as she can. Regretfully I suspect I know the answer. Definitely in this area there are social, economic and political pressures/risks in putting one's face and name in the forefront of associating with and helping the needy.

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