How one text message set off a chain of events, saving a grandmother’s life

February 15, 2021

By: Marissa Roberge, Social Media Intern

On Sunday afternoon, January 31, a long-time friend of Afya and life long philanthropist received a text from her 18-year-old son that set off a chain of events and saved an elderly woman’s life. Names have been left out of this story to preserve the privacy of those involved.

The son had discovered that a dear friend of his was looking for donations to buy a Butterfly IQ Ultrasound machine for the hospital caring for her grandmother. The hospital, located in a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood where more than 50 percent of household income is below $50K, is chronically under-resourced.

The grandmother was sick with Covid-19 and her veins were erupting, but the hospital did not have the equipment to treat her. Its Butterfly IQ Ultrasound had broken. A Butterfly IQ Ultrasound machine is a portable ultrasound device that connects to a smartphone and can, among other things, be used to identify a patient’s veins. Without a working machine, the hospital had been unable to locate the grandmother’s veins and could not do a much needed blood transfusion. The young man immediately sent a text to his mother asking if his family could donate to the cause.

Our friend knew the pending snowstorm would physically isolate this hospital and stall any delivery. The sick grandmother did not have time to waste. She said to her son, let’s do one better and see if we can get them the machine tonight. Let’s call Afya. 

Her son’s eyes lit up, “Yes! Afya will be able to fix it!”

Our friend was realistic. She knew there was likely only a 50 percent chance that Afya would have one of these machines in our warehouse. But she said she also knew there was a 100 percent chance Afya would do what we could to help.

Where did this confidence come from? Years of volunteer work. Our friend first got connected to Afya in the summer of 2017 when she, along with her sister and mother, helped raise money to send supplies to the Syrian White Helmets via Afya’s partners in Israel. Afya became a family affair. Her family traveled to South Africa in December of 2019 and brought with them about 10 suitcases full of medical supplies to deliver to health clinics as part of our Luggage for Life Program. Her daughter even collected school supplies from her classmates for Afya as her Bat Mitzvah project.

Afya Founder and CEO Danielle Butin received the call for help via email at 2:15 p.m. and instantly understood the situation. She said, “It is tragic that American healthcare institutions and providers serving under-resourced and compromised populations are themselves compromised due to a lack of funding.”

She asked her team what Afya could do? What happened next was the work of the passionate, caring staff at Afya who opened the warehouse on a Sunday.

Alex Robinson, Afya’s Director of Biomedical Engineering, knew immediately that Afya had a machine that could help – a Venoscope II. Venoscopes help clinicians locate veins by directing high-intensity light into the arm and illuminating the veins.

The unit had been donated to the warehouse by a hospital several years ago with a broken switch. Upon receiving the unit, Alex was able to purchase a new switch for about two dollars and the repair only took a few hours.

The Venoscope had already been prepared for shipment to Lebanon, which meant it had already gone through FDA, AAMI, and JCAHO testing. The Lebanon shipment had recently been canceled, making the unit available and miraculously ready to leave the warehouse. Someone would just need to meet the family and fill out the necessary paperwork. 

Since Alex lives nearby he is often called upon for urgent errands like this one, but he says he is happy to do it.

“I came from a hospital background where I was a department head at several of the hospitals in the area. And I was always on call,” explained Alex. “It was a perfect job for me then. And this is the perfect job for me now because I’m helping people all over the world. They don’t know me, I don’t know them. But I know that somebody’s life is improved by the work I do.”

Our friend’s husband drove with his son to pick up the machine and delivered it to the family in need before 5 o’clock. The snow had just started to fall when Alex made his way home from the warehouse that evening.

In less than three hours a whole lot of compassion, teamwork, and a bit of Afya magic came together to save a grandmother’s life. Our friend summed up the events of the weekend best when she said, “Everybody is a part of each other and we can all help in whatever ways we can.”

A person’s zip code should never be the limiting factor in the quality of healthcare available to them. Now, with this added technology, a New York City hospital will be able to raise the quality of care available to its patients and save many more lives during this health crisis.