There are 160 babies who die each day as a result of tetanus.
It is the reason Kiwanis International and UNICEF have teamed up to create the “Eliminate Project” with the goal of eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus from the face of the Earth.
The Cleveland Kiwanis heard a personal story about the efforts from a Kiwanian who has been on the ground seeing how these efforts are succeeding and need to be continued.
John Mayfield from Ashland City is a Kiwanis International trustee and a philanthropist who supports many local charities.
He is also owner of Mayfield’s Book Store which donates all proceeds from the sales of used books to his philanthropic foundation.
Mayfield is also a recovering alcoholic and that is where his involvement in changing the world begins.
“As part of my recovery, I ask for God’s will in my life everyday and that’s what I do,” Mayfield said. “He sometimes has me do stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily do.”
The answer he got led him to Sierra Leone, a country located on the western coast of Africa.
“There were two men who came to Ashland City and asked me about donating $100,000 to this project,” Mayfield said. “I intuitively knew I was going to do it.”
He was then invited to go to the region where he learned more about how the disease was affecting the people and how his donation helped.
“I thought it was where Humphrey Bogart went to hunt gold,” he joked. “And I can tell you Kiwanis and UNICEF are not wasting your money because I spend $2,000 to go on a free trip. Those serving in Madagacar today paid their own way.”
But Mayfield arrived and soon saw the reality of the need on the ground.
“Tetanus spores are found in the soil everywhere,” Mayfield said. “The difference between here and there is you can go to the hospital and get a shot. In these underdeveloped countries, they’re not OK. They die and it’s a horrible death.”
He said the disease targets the poorest and most underserved women and children on the planet.
“This is what happens,” he said. “A mother carries her child for nine months. Due to unclean birthing practices, they cut the umbilical cord. Some even pack the cord in dirt so that it won’t bleed. The tetanus spore gets into the baby and sometimes the mother.”
He said because the mother is not vaccinated, the baby develops convulsions within 36 hours.
“They are violent convulsions, which breaks their little bones and tears their little muscles,” Mayfield said. “They are in excruciating pain. Picture yourself having a leg cramp in the middle of the night all over your body. That’s how it feels to them.”
He said the babies have to be blindfolded because they become sensitive to light.
The mother cannot hold them or touch them.
“Thank God, within six to 10 days they die and the mother’s just sitting there in a dark room with absolutely nothing she can do about it,” Mayfield said. “This doesn’t need to happen. There is a solution.”
Mayfield said the Eliminate Project can provide the vaccinations for $1.80 per person and the project has set a goal for $110 million to be reached by 2015 — the 100th anniversary of Kiwanis International.
“It only takes $1.80 to save a life,” Mayfield said.