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Doctor headed to Ethiopia

Published:   |   Updated: May 6, 2013 at 06:34 AM

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When Dr. Natalie Leibensperger steps off of the airplane in Ethiopia this summer, sightseeing will likely be the farthest thing from her mind.

Leibensperger, medical director at My Gynecologist in Spring Hill, will be working at Soddo Christian Hospital. Soddo, a city of about 80,000, is in south-central Ethiopia, just more than 200 miles from the country’s capital, Addis Ababa.

With 120 beds, the hospital serves some 3 million residents in the immediate, rural region.

Leibensperger said she has wanted to do mission work for quite a while, but has only recently been able to arrange time away from her own practice. A colleague with whom she worked with in Michigan retired to Ethiopia a few years ago and practices at the hospital there. Leibensperger will be filling in for him as he takes time off from his duties of performing emergency C-sections at the hospital.

“He’s working harder now than when he was in practice” in the United States, Leibensperger said.

Anxious and excited about spending her July in Africa, Leibensperger said the most daunting thing is she doesn’t quite know what to expect.

“Medicine there is not medicine here,” Leibensperger said, explaining the women who do deliver their babies at the hospital often stay just a few hours before returning home. A woman delivered surprise triplets recently after the hospital lost its ultrasound machine.

In Spring Hill, she’s in control. In Ethiopia, she doesn’t exactly know what kinds of cases are waiting for her.

Due to the lack of resources and organized health care there, Leibensperger is raising money through her church, Vineyards Christian Church, in hopes of purchasing equipment the hospital desperately needs — a new ultrasound machine and a hysteroscope. A new ultrasound can cost up to $40,000, she said, and a hysteroscope less than $10,000.

Leibensperger said the Ethiopian government has tight restrictions on bringing in used medical equipment, so cash donations are the best way to help the cause.

Parishioners at the young church — just about 2 years old — are enthusiastic about their first attempt at a mission, Leibensperger said. Many wanted to come with Leibensperger, who will travel with her husband, Karl, also a doctor, and their 13-year-old son, who will help teach English classes.

“I decided I needed to go first and lay the groundwork,” Leibensperger said, adding she was certain she’d want to keep going back.

In addition to raising funds and searching for equipment, Leibensperger is her family’s trip planner. She’s gotten seven vaccinations herself for the trip and has figured out just how many pounds of luggage the airline will let them fly with.

Leibensperger said she’s collected extra suitcases just to bring supplies in.

Ethiopia is a rapidly growing country and has about 91 million total citizens, according to the Soddo Christian Hospital’s website. About half the population is under the age of 15. Poverty and unsanitary living conditions are among the largest challenges for Ethiopians. The death rate of pregnant women is one in 16 in the country, as opposed to one in 2,800 in the West, and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world.

Soddo Christian Hospital was established in 2005 and has treated more than 100,000 people since.

For more information on the mission trip, visit

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