Making a difference through medical relief in Kenya

Elizabeth with Millicent and Beryl, two 12-year-old Kenyan Relief orphans

Elizabeth Studley

Elizabeth Studley, CRNA, MS, has been an anesthetist at C.S. Mott children's Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital since 2004. She began working as an aide at UMHS in the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital operating rooms in 1991.

Elizabeth says that her mother, Suzanne Studley, a surgical technologist at Mott Children's Hospital, profoundly influenced her life by bringing young Elizabeth to work at Mott as a sixteen-year old.

Suzanne retired in 1998 as a surgical technologist after 30 years of service.

From a close call, a commitment

Elizabeth says that she was led to service work after emerging unscathed following a rear-end collision with a semi-truck in May 2007. A woman of deep religious conviction, she took that experience a as a sign that she was meant to dedicate herself to serving others.

As a nurse anesthetist at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, and Henry Ford Health System, Elizabeth closely monitors patients each day to make sure they are safe, comfortable and relaxed. But her commitment to helping others extends beyond hospital walls.

For the last five years, she has led a team of surgeons and other health care providers from both HFHS and the UMHS to provide care to people in Kenya.

In March 2014, she travelled to the East African country with 23 surgeons, anesthesia providers, nurses, surgical technicians and pharmacists who offered lifesaving medical relief in a region with scarce access to health care. The volunteers provided care to people in local communities, many who travelled for miles to see a physician for the first time in their lives.

60 surgeries and 350 patients treated in 3 days

In their most recent trip to Kenya, the team performed 60 surgeries and treated nearly 350 patients in just three days. Medical services provided by the team range from general surgery and dentistry to pediatrics and ear, nose and throat procedures. The team travels for a day and a half each way to get to the Kenya Relief compound and once they arrive, they work from 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM each day.

"When our team works at the clinic, many of us work for 20 hours, sleep for four, and get back up to work another 12 hours. It's so hard to turn people away when you know you are their only hope, that they have walked for days to see you, and that you have traveled more than 8,000 miles to help them," she says.

The volunteers provide treatment for a variety of conditions, including malaria, typhoid, HIV, diabetes, hypertension, a multitude of malignancies and penetrating bone injuries. For their last three visits, Elizabeth's team included pediatric and adult general surgeons as well as ear, nose and throat surgeons.


Studley's team is the largest of 21 groups who volunteer with KenyaRelief.Org. Kenya Relief owns 60 acres of land in Migori, Kenya where they've established an orphanage, school and medical clinic. In addition, Kenya Relief plans to build a 300-bed medical center, which will begin construction in the fall.

Elizabeth's first mission trip with Kenya Relief occurred in September 2009.

Elizabeth says: "There are a plethora of surgical cases that our surgeons perform, such as thyroidectomy, head and neck tumor removal, cleft lip and palate repairs, tympanoplasty, mastoidectomy, scar revisions, hernia repair, hydrocelectomy, abdominal cyst and tumor removal, burn repair with skin grafting and circumcision. There are many other surgeries we can accommodate. It just depends on who walks through the door."

Asked why it's important to help patients in Kenya, Elizabeth explains: The lack of healthcare affordability and access in Kenya and other developing countries is astounding. In Kenya, there are approximately 1.4 physicians per 10,000 people and only 1.6 hospital beds available per 1,000 people. There are people who are blinded by cataracts and who die unnecessarily by untreated fractures, cancers and other conditions that are easily treated in the U.S. Although there is a lack of healthcare in our country, most citizens are able to visit an emergency department and obtain treatment."

For medical volunteers, a soul-filling transformation

Elizabeth says that watching first-time members of the team realize the impact they make on the patients is one of the most rewarding parts of aspects of her work in Kenya. "It is an actual transformation for the team members and the patients we serve," she says.

Besides Elizabeth, the other UMHS participants in the 2014 Kenya Relief mission were: Jeff Terrell, Cedric Pritchett, Lisa Shaw, Heather Vincent, Renee Chulski, Marcia Leonard, Joy Ikeri, and Lahti Lahti.

"Although we pay for our own travel and use our personal vacation time for these trips, I can assure you that this is the most soul-filling experience of our lives. My teammates and I have realized that by sacrificing our time, money and talents, we are getting back so much more. To be able to help change another human being's life and to watch our Kenyan brothers and sisters be restored to much better health by the work we do is absolutely priceless. It makes every moment of preparation worth the sacrifice."

This article appeared originally on, a publication of the University of Michigan Health System.