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Doctor on call returns to India

Christians who made a difference by Rosemary Dawson: Ida Scudder (1870-1960)

Compassion drove her on. Sometimes she saw up to 500 cases a day.

HER parents and grandparents were American medical missionaries in India, but Ida Scudder couldn’t wait to leave the country and head for the comforts of the US. As a young girl, she had fed children too weak to feed themselves and seen tiny corpses by the roadside. She wanted away.

But God had different ideas. One night in 1894, three men of other faiths begged her to help their wives who were all in danger of dying in childbirth. In their cultures only another woman could help at such a time. Ida had no knowledge of midwifery and there was no woman doctor to treat them.

She spent the night in anguish, praying for guidance. She later wrote: ‘That was the first time I ever met God face to face, and it seemed that he was calling me into this work.’

When she later heard of the women’s deaths, Ida made a decision. She told her parents that she must study medicine in America and then return to help others. Ida returned to India, a qualified doctor, with substantial funds for a women’s hospital at Vellore. It opened in 1902, and for 22 years she was its only surgeon.

She also established a tuberculosis sanatorium and a system of roadside clinics, offering public health services and education in remote locations. Compassion drove her on. Sometimes she saw up to 500 cases a day.

Her own kitchen maid became the first nurse Ida trained. The idea that ‘Indian women must be taught to care for Indian women’ led to Vellore’s nursing school, something almost unheard of in Asia. Then Ida set her sights higher and decided that, as well as nurses, she would train doctors.

The girl who had craved a comfortable life in America instead made an outstanding difference to countless lives in India, winning international fame, awards and a visit from Gandhi.

We don’t have to go as far as India to help others. But we can ask God to open our eyes to the needs of people in our own community, and find ways of helping them.

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