It all started when...
When Marinus “Dick” Koning, MD FACS, retired from his Bend, Oregon surgical practice in 2008, he embarked upon a humanitarian mission to Ethiopia. He had always had an interest in tropical diseases and disorders, and Ethiopia offered the perfect opportunity for a firsthand experience.
Ethiopia is a modernizing, emergent East African nation with a rich cultural history that dates back to Biblical times. Yet with all of its achievements and advancements, Ethiopia still has a large medically underserved population. To aid those who “fall through the cracks” of other services, Dr. Koning founded ReachAnother Foundation (RAF) in 2009 as a non-profit organization designed to increase access to healthcare for some of the world's poorest citizens.
One of RAF's first projects was helping to establish the Nehemiah Autism Center as Ethiopia's first school dedicated solely to teaching indigent autistic children. Read more about the opening here. Dr. Koning's expertise as a trauma surgeon also led him to the Myungsung Christian Medical Center and the Addis Ababa University hospital where he found himself working side-by-side with Ethiopia's neurosurgeons. That is when he learned that few services were available for treating babies with certain neural tube birth defects, primarily hydrocephalus (aka “water on the brain”) and spina bifida.
In Ethiopia, hydrocephalic babies were basically doomed from birth to a premature death. Dr. Koning knew that if these babies could receive a shunt implant early enough in their infancy, they could expect to live normal lives. In 2011, together with Ethiopia's leading neurosurgeons, Drs. Mersha, Abat and Hagos, the first graduates of the new neurosurgery training program at Addis Ababa University, RAF designed an innovative approach to this problem: the Hydrocephalus Campaign.
One of the team's challenges was educating the general medical community, as well as new mothers, that hydrocephalus was indeed “fixable” through corrective surgery. Securing hospital beds and operating rooms time created a second challenge to which they found a simple solution – perform surgery on hydrocephalic babies during weekend hours when the operating and recovery rooms were not being used.
The Hydrocephalus Campaign for Ethiopia was launched in 2011; within a year RAF had facilitated its 100th corrective surgery on a baby from Jinka, a small rural village near the Sudanese border. The Baby Jinka surgery demonstrated that care was possible for people from the most remote areas of Ethiopia.
In 2013, RAF expanded when it opened ReachAnother Nederland, headed by Dick's twin brother, Jan, who is also a surgeon. By the end of that year more than 200 babies had received corrective surgery.
The expansion of ReachAnother Foundation’s (RAF) hydrocephalus program can accommodate up to 50 operations per month. Complemented by the expected graduation of more neurosurgeons, RAF devised a five-year plan to help train up to 25 neurosurgeons and facilitate surgeries for 5000 babies by 2020.
Since RAF's inception, Dr. Koning has recruited more than 100 medical, paramedical and educational professionals from the United States and Europe to serve in Ethiopia, and more than 1500 hydrocephalic babies have received life-saving corrective surgery.