Where will they send her?
While the rest of us are worrying about the Ebola epidemic and the multiple health challenges in Africa, a Chapel Hill nurse is wondering to what dangerous area her next assignment will take her.
Anna Freeman grew up in Chapel Hill and worked at UNC Hospitals as a pediatric cardiology nurse. Since 2008 she has served with Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization.
In her first assignment with that organization she managed nursing care at a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The hospital is near the Rwandan border in a region long plagued by heavy fighting.
She told me that despite the danger, “People live amongst the market, school, and fields of crops all the while this other activity is happening.
“At the hospital, half of our patients were trauma victims, from gunshot wounds or machetes. The wounded from different fighting factions would be in the same room. I remember thinking, how can we treat these people from different factions in the same place? But everyone was kind and respectful. There was a lot of chitchat. Wives and family came and prepared meals—and the different groups ate side-by-side.”
Earlier this summer, she came home after her latest assignment, also in Congo, where she led a Doctors Without Borders team into the Katanga region near Lake Tanganyika. That region is subject to severe malaria outbreaks twice a year. Freeman's team was responding to an alarming increase in pediatric mortality rates.
Working with local officials, her group helped arrange for the treatment of 10,000 malaria cases and hospitalization of 2,000 victims. Because it is critically important to diagnosis and treat malaria early, the group members worked to make those services available throughout the region. They also helped local officials implement new protocols for the treatment of the disease.
In between the two assignments to Congo, Freeman worked in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, in South Sudan on maternal and child health problems, in the Central African Republic, in Uganda with refugees from South Sudan, and again in Haiti to help respond to a cholera epidemic.
“I like to travel, going to places that are unknown,” she said. “I think there are very few things more interesting than that. To be able to do that and to work in the career that I love and be able to alleviate suffering: By working with Doctors Without Borders, I can do all of these things.”
Freeman's parents spent their professional careers expanding opportunities for good health care. Her mother, Dr. Victoria Freeman, is deputy director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center, where she has worked on a long list of projects to extend good health care to rural North Carolina.
Her father Charles Glenn Humble, has, according to “The Fountain,” the annual publication of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Graduate School, “dedicated his entire career to solving problems and improving the American health care industry … in a variety of settings, from the federal government, the pharmaceutical industry and the nonprofit sector, and has helped develop innovative ways to solve health care problems.”
Sometime in the next few days, when the new assignment from Doctors Without Borders comes, Anna Freeman will head out to another part of the world again, following her parents’ footsteps, dedicating herself to solving problems, and improving health care in a place where she is most needed.
Anna Freeman’s conversation with D.G. Martin on WCHL’s “Who’s Talking” is available at http://chapelboro.com/category/wchl/lifestyle-weekly/whos-talking/. Martin’s regular weekly column appears on The Herald-Sun’s editorial page on Wednesdays and online at http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/opinioncolumnists/martin.