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This article about team leader Rachel Frazin and our mission appeared in the March issue of Minnesota Physician

2018 Community Caregiver: Rachel Frazin, APRN

'You will never minister to a more grateful people'

 After her daughter Daniele’s suicide by overdose in 2009, Rachel Frazin, an advanced practice registered nurse, began a pilgrimage of understanding that took her to Nepal, where she provided cursory care at a week-long health camp sponsored by an American nonprofit.

That’s when she decided to create her own organization, Tsum Valley Medical Mission, to provide comprehensive care in the Tsum Valley, a the remote area of the Middle Himalaya of Nepal near Tibet.  

According to Frazin, “My genuine happiness lies in doing for others.” Her fiscal sponsor, the Empower Nepal Foundation, run by St. Paul restaurateur Padam Sharma, sponsors Frazin’s effort to provide culturally sensitive care to the Tsumbas (as they call themselves).

In addition to primary care, the Tsum Valley Medical Mission provides women’s health care, including the first ever cervical cancer screening program and family planning; preventive and restorative dentistry; eye care; and public health education.  

The most common medical problems include chronic musculoskeletal pain, gastritis, and asthma/COPD.

A day’s drive and a six day hike from Kathmandu, Tsum Valley is described by veteran hikers as “Shangri-La” with bridges suspended over rushing rivers, and the surrounding towering mountains.

The Tsumbas, who farm at altitude without the benefit of machines or roads,  cannot access professional medical and dental care because of the absence of practicing professionals. Ninety percent of the people are illiterate with little understanding of health and disease. Most Tsumbas rarely go to Kathmandu because of the necessary time spent away from their fields and animals as well as fearfulness rooted in their insular existence.  

After the earthquakes in 2015, several clinics were built with international donations. The clinics are staffed with health assistants who have modest medical training and very basic knowledge of primary and preventive care.

Frazin recruits medical providers, nurses, dentists, and support staff for her yearly forays to Tsum;  purchases supplies and the medications that the clinicians prescribe; fund raises; and arranges follow up care for patients. Each year her team provides ten days of care in the Compassion Health Clinic in Upper Tsum and in tents or teahouses in Lower Tsum.

Frazin started the first EHR in the valley to ensure continuity of care, but it’s a struggle with no internet.

She finds volunteering tremendously rewarding and tells providers, “At times, you will witness suffering that is untreatable, but you will never minister to a more grateful people. “