When an employee at African Barrick Gold’s (ABG) Tulawaka mine suffered a heart attack late last summer, site doctors and emergency responders were thrust into a crisis that could have easily ended tragically but for their skill, resilience and quick thinking under trying circumstances. When the ordeal was over, Doctors Florian Vedasto and Abdulnur Maupa and emergency responders Peter Mikongwa and Alex Kasengo had successfully stabilized and evacuated the employee, who went on to make a full recovery.
The four men were recently recognized for their efforts at an annual employees’ gala attended by the Honorable Nassib Mbaga, Executive Director of the Biharamulo District, which is located in northwest Tanzania and home to the Tulawaka mine. Philbert Rweyemamu, General Manager of Tulawaka, also attended and presented the awards.
The night of August 28, 2012 was near pitch-black at Tulawaka. At about seven o’clock that evening, the doctors were called to the site’s mining camp to treat an employee who was suffering from an apparent heart attack. The employee was rushed to the site’s infirmary where Vedasto and Maupa used defibrillators to stabilize him. Medical personnel called for an air ambulance from Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city about 300 kilometers away, only to learn that none were available. With the employee’s life hanging in the balance, medical staff quickly booked a charter flight to carry out the evacuation.
As the doctors and responders waited for the plane to arrive, the employee suffered a second heart attack, requiring another round of resuscitation and defibrillation. “It took a long time for the patient to respond and that was not good,” Vedasto says. “All that was in my head was that this patient shouldn’t die.”
As the doctors worked to save the employee, a new problem emerged. Visibility was so low the plane could not land safely on the Tulawaka air strip, which is not equipped for night landings. When the responders learned of this potentially devastating setback, they quickly devised a solution; they lined up all available light vehicles from the mine along the runway with their headlights on to illuminate the landing strip. With the light from some 20 vehicles to guide it, the plane was able to land and evacuate the employee. Vedasto accompanied the plane to Mwanza, and, later that evening, the employee was flown to Nairobi, Kenya to receive further treatment.
“The cardiologist at the hospital in Nairobi said the employee was very lucky,” says Antoinette George, Tulawaka’s Medical Clinic Supervisor. “Our training in advanced trauma life support and advanced cardiac life support prepared the doctors here for this kind of situation.”
Vedasto says he is glad that he was able to help the employee. “It is a good feeling."
ABG’s medical expertise isn’t solely confined to helping mine employees. When communities in rural Tanzania require assistance beyond what their local clinics can offer for complicated cases, such as neurological problems or pregnancy complications, medical staff from Barrick’s mines answer the call.
“In times of community need, our doctors go out to examine, diagnose and stabilize patients,” George says. “Our doctors will also assist with medical evacuations to hospitals if the situation warrants it.”