Name: Vanessa and Simon
Event: London to Beijing in aid of Lifebox
Date: January – December 2018
A junior doctor and former INGO worker have together taken up the challenge of a lifetime – spending a year cycling from the UK to China, in part to satisfy their curiosity of different cultures, but to also raise life-saving funds for safer surgery and anaesthesia globally.
We caught up with Vanessa to find out more about their adventure for Lifebox®.
Cycling from London to China is a huge task, what inspired you to undertake such a challenge?
Simon and I met in London three years ago. One of my earliest memories, is him telling me he was cycling from London to Paris with a friend, and was hoping to complete the journey in under 24 hours.
I was pretty impressed that he would cycle that far in that time frame, and it got me thinking about other journeys that could be achieved under one’s own steam. We found ourselves craving a big adventure!
During my elective in Malawi I had met other long distance cyclists, and at the time I remember thinking they were all quite mad! The idea of crossing continents by bicycle may seem pretty extreme to some, and it has certainly taken us way out of our comfort zone at times and brought countless challenges that have tested our physical, mental and emotional strength.
What motivated you to support Lifebox?
I (Vanessa) was introduced to Lifebox and the amazing work they do whilst I was still in medical school. I helped to organise a global health conference on ‘Innovation in global health’ through Medsin (now known as the Lifebox – Students for Global Health), a student run global health organisation. Lifebox were invited to run a workshop and it was here I learnt more about the organisation and the impact they have had on safer surgery and anaesthesia across the globe.
I was impressed by the clarity of their goals, and also shocked at the numbers of hospitals having to run ORs without access to the most basic equipment and/or faulty or unreliable equipment. We heard personal accounts from doctors and nurses working in under-resourced hospitals across the world who had received training and equipment through Lifebox, and who in turn had made a huge difference to the safety of their patients.
Simon has worked for a development NGO, where his work has often highlighted the disparities in access to, and quality of, healthcare in low-resource countries across the globe and was equally passionate about promoting Lifebox and the great work they do worldwide.
What does safer surgery and anaesthesia mean to you?
I plan on specialising in anaesthetics on my return home from this trip, and through experience both in hospitals in the UK and abroad, the importance of having properly trained staff and a properly equipped OR is starkly clear, and possibly something all too often taken for granted in our operating theatres back home. Whilst on elective, I would often encounter patients who had travelled for hours to days by bicycle to reach a hospital because they had no other access to transportation.
Pregnant mothers, often in labour, who would have to travel on the back of a bicycle because there was no ambulance or car to take them to their closest hospital which could be over a days walk away. For them to arrive in need of urgent medical attention and be exposed to the risk of unsafe anaesthesia or surgery, through a lack of resources, is something that cannot, and should not, be happening in 2018.
Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and the work that Lifebox is doing to improve and raise standards in global surgery and anaesthesia deserves recognition.
What do you hope to achieve?
This bicycle ride is a personal challenge – testing our limits and forcing us to step out of our comfort zones. For us, it’s not the miles we do per day or how fast we can get somewhere (though there will be a fair few miles for sure!) it’s more about the opportunity to experience countries, people (and food!) at the pace a bicycle offers.
Lifebox has inspired a global movement in safer surgery and anaesthesia, and if we can use this bicycle trip to raise awareness of their work and encourage people to donate whatever they can to help them it, then it will just make the end of a long day of cycling even sweeter.