Kevin Hall on close encounters with wildlife, helping train medical professionals in Uganda

Kevin Hall, D.P.T., a supervisor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, recently traveled to Uganda to teach medical professionals there about caring for patients who have had a stroke. Learn about the purpose and inspiration for his trip, and the memories he made along the way.

Kevin Hall, D.P.T. came within feet of wild gorillas and lions, and even accidentally shared a tent with a black mamba snake.

But those are just some of the memories Hall, a supervisor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, brought back from a trip to Uganda. He was there to train medical professionals about caring for patients who have suffered a stroke.

Hall's trip to Uganda was inspired by Cumara O'Carroll, M.D., Neurology, who has spent several years traveling to Uganda to provide patient care and training in Neurology for healthcare professionals at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology.

The News Center team caught up with Hall to learn about the purpose and inspiration for his trip to Uganda, and the memories he made there.

What was the purpose of your trip to Uganda?

The purpose of this trip was to support one of our Mayo Clinic stroke neurologists, Dr. Cumara O'Carroll. She has been traveling to Uganda for more than 10 years, providing patient care, training and support for physicians in need of general neurology training. She helped train a group of internal medicine doctors in neurology, specifically stroke care, as there is a great need for care in that part of Africa.

Dr. O'Carroll reached out to me — as I have an interest and board certification in Neurology — to begin to identify the need for improved therapy services with the eventual goal of developing an inpatient neurological rehab center in Uganda. This was the second consecutive year I attended, which allowed me to begin teaching physical therapy, medical staff and students, and gather data on the number of potential rehab candidates that currently exist.

Why Uganda, and why now?

Kevin Hall cares for a patient in Uganda.

After traveling and working in Uganda for two years, I have come to appreciate the great opportunity that exists there. The Ugandan people are so thankful for help and eager to learn. They are in a very special time of development, with increasing relationships with medical staff from around the world but not great access to technology, current medication or the most up-to-date clinical practice guidelines.

There is a significant and growing interest in the field of rehabilitation in central Africa. They have a budding physical therapy program throughout the country, but it is very much in its infancy. There is an enormous gap in the development and access to therapy, and the number of patients who would benefit from comprehensive rehabilitation. The ability to train future and current therapists and demonstrate the benefits of therapy in this part of the world is a truly exciting opportunity. It is remarkable to reflect on the number of people who could benefit from knowledge sharing.

What kind of difference were you able to make in Uganda through this work?

Apart from gathering some initial data to support the need for a rehabilitation hospital, I was able to contribute in multiple ways. I was able to show the hospital staff the capabilities of therapy in a hospital setting. I feel this helped inspire them to further support therapy services and continue to modify their future plans. I have been able to establish relationships in the hospital and university, which created opportunities to provide at-the-bedside and classroom teaching for physical therapy students, physical therapists, medical students and physicians. Topics ranged from general neurorehabilitation principles, treatment of vertigo and stroke, and general patient-handling skills. This translated to a dramatic increase in the number of clinicians who were comfortable and capable of mobilizing high-acuity patients out of bed and returning them to their baseline functional status.  

What were some of your most memorable moments there?

The first time I visited Uganda, Dr. O'Carroll accidentally got detained due to a visa issue. It was a very eye-opening and adrenaline-filled adventure going halfway across the world by myself, even though I do love that kind of thing. Seeing the airport, the culture and the poor conditions of the hospital were all very shocking experiences that had a significant impact on me.

I also had a student tell me that, using some of the techniques I taught him, he treated a patient who had been suffering from vertigo for months. As a thank-you, she gifted him a cow, which is a very sacred and significant status symbol. Pretty awesome.

Finally, the culture and landscape are so vibrant and beautiful in Uganda. There are endless adventures in which to partake. I have been within feet of wild gorillas and lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and even (accidentally) shared a hut with a black mamba snake (and lived to tell the tale).

What did you bring back with you to Mayo Clinic?

The experiences I've had in Uganda are life-changing. It is so much easier to appreciate all of the things we have available to us, the opportunities that exist, and the hospital system we work in. I have tried to bring back stories of my time in Uganda to patients and staff members to inspire them. Obviously, I also brought back photos and tales from the work in the hospital, which I'm hoping will serve to inspire my colleagues to travel to Uganda to expand upon the work that has already been done.

How is your time in Uganda influencing your work at Mayo Clinic?

There are very limited resources in Uganda and in the hospitals there. Yet, the medical professionals find a way to get things accomplished. They literally produce prosthetics and orthotics from wood in a workshop on campus, get creative with how medications can be used, and use every available resource to help each other.

I have a new appreciation for adaptability and tenacity because of my time in Uganda. It truly is difficult to complain about anything in our current setting. On a personal note, my fiance is always worried that I'll embrace even more of a minimalist lifestyle every time I come home from Uganda.