By Treva Lind |

While volunteering in Ethiopia in 2013, Ted Nichols was asked to design a basic hospital bed.

Now his model could spread to hospitals throughout southern Ethiopia.

A machinist and longtime tinkerer, the 71-year-old Nichols knew the bed needed to be similar in function to a U.S. model, but low-tech and low-cost. It had to be made with materials readily available in a region with limited supplies.

“There are no hospital beds manufactured in the country,” he said. They’re typically ordered from other countries.

So Nichols, of Newman Lake, developed a metal-framed product that uses chain systems at each end to elevate a patient’s head or feet. An overhead bar is attached for lift and to hang equipment such as IVs.

Also, Nichols designed it with a bar across the bed’s foot with rollers to hang traction weights, for when traction is needed to heal bones.

He returned in September for design work and made a prototype.

In March, he and a crew built 22 beds of his design for an orthopedic surgery wing at Soddo Christian Hospital. Regional medical officials were impressed with the beds, so now they’ve requested that the model be built for other hospitals throughout southern Ethiopia.

“The bed is built primarily for mechanical operation; there’s no electricity, no hydraulics,” Nichols said. “That’s important because power goes out all the time in Ethiopia. They don’t have the money, the know-how to repair most equipment. You can’t use a bed if the hydraulics quit.”

Soddo Christian Hospital, located in the town of Soddo about 200 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa, serves an area of roughly 5 million people as an outreach of St. Luke’s Health Care Foundation in Wheaton, Illinois. International staff members including physicians volunteer their care.

“They’re supported for living expenses by their individual mission-sending organizations,” Nichols said. “The only ones who are paid are the Ethiopian staff.”

On the hospital’s compound, Nichols said plans call for constructing a small manufacturing building and hiring Ethiopians to build two to three hospital beds a day. Ministry of Health officials said the government will pay for ones that the agency needs, Nichols said.

“The profits will go directly to the hospital for patient care,” he said. “More importantly, it will employ people, and help people who need the beds.”

Nichols said he expects to return early next year to help set up manufacturing, depending on the hospital’s plans.

Soddo Christian Hospital, as a 140-bed facility, also requires another 16 new beds built for orthopedics and ICU. Medical and obstetrics wards will need beds in the future.

Nichols, who retired as a machinist from The Spokesman-Review in 2009, has traveled to Ethiopia five times since 2007 after hearing of connections between his church and the Ethiopian people. When home, Nichols also competes in area triathlons.

In 2007, Nichols helped set up new processing equipment for a coffee plantation in Yirgacheffe through Dominion Trading, a Liberty Lake-based coffee trading company. Profits are shared with Ethiopian coffee growers and the New Covenant Foundation ministry. Remembering people in Ethiopia drew Nichols back by early 2012, when he volunteered his fix-it and build-it skills at the Soddo hospital.

“I fell in love with the people back in 2007, but I really fell in love with the people of Soddo,” Nichols said. “It’s like a big family.”

“What it really comes down to is what they do at the hospital. Every patient who comes into that hospital, they leave healthy, and they know who Jesus is, because they pray for every patient who walks through the door.”

At the hospital, he designed and built wood-fired cook stoves for its kitchen. Another year, he built a waste incinerator for hospital waste disposal. In 2014, he developed a mounting system for a 1,200-pound X-ray machine.

“What I’ve done all my life is design and build equipment,” he said. “I’ve fixed things ever since I was a kid. I could sharpen a drill bit before I learned how to ride a bike.”

Nichols also has a knack for using parts from one piece of equipment to revive another. Installation of ICU curtain rods required flat-head Allen screws that weren’t available. Days later, he had to fix a stretcher missing pieces and returned from a junkyard with the right screws in hand.

“That’s another God thing,” he said. “This goes on all the time. I fixed a $70,000 piece of equipment, and I have no idea what it does.”

He’s seen patients’ suffering and death but also uplifting stories, like a woman after surgery who went from crawling since birth to walking with a walker.

“People in Ethiopia face health issues all the time; there’s lack of health care,” he said. “That’s why the beds are needed so badly.”

“What the hospital does for people in the region is amazing,” Nichols added. “Anything I can fix there and help, that just brings more people in.”

Source: The Spokesman-Review

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