Alumna’s instructional videos transform frontline health care globally

In rural South Sudan, the population barely tops four people per square mile. Vehicles are a rarity. And when night falls, a limitless silence descends.

Despite this isolation, Deborah Van Dyke, M.P.H. ’93, was rattled awake late one evening by a woman pounding urgently on her door. It was 2008. Van Dyke—a family practice clinician—was working as medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, the international aid organization, at a makeshift rural clinic. Her visitor, a local nurse, breathlessly explained that a birth in a nearby medical tent had gone wrong. The pair grabbed a flashlight and raced through the dark to intervene.

“The baby was blue, floppy. He wasn’t breathing,” Van Dyke recalls. “The doctor and midwife trying to resuscitate him were doing chest compressions and suctioning the infant’s mouth and nose.” What they forgot to try in the heat of the moment was the one simple intervention that could actually save the child. Van Dyke stepped in with a bag and mask—a device used to squeeze air into a patient’s lungs—and positioned it securely on the infant’s face. After a few seconds, he was breathing. “That’s all it took,” she says.

As the newborn gained consciousness, Van Dyke had an epiphany: “All over the world, so many lives could be saved if health workers could learn critical skills through the teaching power of video.”

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