Piero and Lucille have created their Foundations in 1995 with the goal to offer dedicated support to "their" Lacor Hospital, by providing financial support for times when the hospital is not able to find alternative ways to pay for its current expenditure. The Foundations also provide technical and logistic support.
Since 2003, the year when Piero Corti died, his daughter Dominique has been the President of the Foundation in Milan and is dedicated full-time to fund raising and awareness activities.
A brief history of Lacor Hospital
In 1959, near the city of Gulu, in Northern Uganda, Giovanni Battista Cesana, a Combonian missionary born in Lecco and Bishop of Gulu, established St Mary's Hospital near Lacor, a site a few kilometres west of Gulu, a small city that is the capital of Northern Uganda. In 1961, when Piero Corti arrived, invited by Monsignor Cesana, the hospital consisted of an outpatients' section, a maternity ward and few beds. A few midwives ran it with nurses who were Combonian nuns, while the chaplain and the "builder friar" were also Combonians. The medicine and radiology wards and the laboratory were under construction. Piero Corti and Lucille Teasdale married in the hospital's chapel and they were to remain at Lacor their whole life. They persevered to manage and develop it, by finding funds themselves, at first turning to their relatives and friends.
Thanks to Piero and Lucille's work, the hospital began to grow, and they made a great effort to find funds for the surgery and paediatrics wards. In 1965 the surgical ward was completed, with an operating room of two tables and nearby service rooms. In those years the CUAMM (University College of Aspiring Missionary Doctors), located in Padoa, Italy, began sending three to four voluntary doctors every two years. Now known as Medici con l'Africa CUAMM, the project was to continue for around 20 years. Doctor Marcello Bolognesi came to Lacor for his period of national service, thanks to the Pedini Law. In April 1970 Doctors Gigi and Mirella Rho came to Gulu for a training period before going to the Matany Hospital.
The School for Registered Nurses was opened in 1973. Two peripheral health centres were set up in 1974 in Opit and Pabbo, and a third one two years later in Amuru. Initially, these were only outpatient' units, but a ward was added a few years later. Working in these three health centres, Canadian paediatrician Claude Desjardins and his wife Susanne set the basis for primary health care at Lacor, by training some professionals called health educators. Getting the collaboration of voluntary doctors was easier in those years, thanks to the technical cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For three months, during the northward movement of the Tanzanian Liberation Army, the hospital remained isolated from the rest of the world. Lucille was the only surgeon in a very large area who was able to perform war surgery, especially on Amin's soldiers who had injured each other. The hospital was located on the escape route of Idi Amin's retreating army and was plundered in the days before the Tanzanians arrived in Gulu. It is believed that it was in those years that Lucille contracted AIDS, by cutting herself on bone splinters.
In 1983 Lacor obtained the authorization to become the location for new graduates from the Faculty of Medicine in Makerere to serve their internship. Among the interns, Doctor Matthew Lukwiya clearly stood out as the most promising doctor, both in professional and humane terms. By now, nearly all the staff was Ugandan. The dream began to become reality. The first cases of a new disease appeared in Uganda, a disease that was to rapidly become the AIDS pandemic. Brother Elio Croce, a Combonian missionary who had already been in Africa for ten years, came to manage the technical department of Lacor.
The projects with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to train Ugandan staff continued in the second half of the 80s. The hospital facilities were expanded: Surgery II with three operating theatres, dental surgery, endoscopy, library, pathology laboratories, physiotherapy, and archives. Doctor Opira Cyprian (now Executive Director) was one of the interns. During these years, the hospital was repeatedly plundered, day and night. Nurses were kidnapped and drugs and moneypaid their ransoms. Over 90% of the staff lived on the hospital grounds and at night often slept under the bushes or in the buildings under construction to avoid the risk of being kidnapped. Piero and Lucille's home was pillaged on Easter in 1987, and the rebels threatened them. The outpatient unit was closed down after repeated attacks within a period of a few months. Doctor Odong Emintone (now Medical Director) came as a practitioner, while Doctor Matthew Lukwiya went to Hammersmith College in London to attend a specialist programme in haematology.
Social unrest affecting the hospital continued and peaked in 1989 with the kidnapping of Doctor Matthew who remained in the hands of the guerrillas for one week. The Tuberculosis ward was set up, headed by Lucille. It became necessary, however, to vacate the peripheral health centres of Amuru, Pabbo and Opit that would be plundered and almost destroyed. Among the interns was Doctor Ogwang Martin (now Institutional Director).
In the 90s, the hospital now had 400 Ugandan employees and 450 beds. The new multi-specialty outpatient unit of the hospital was opened in 1995, funded by the Italian Episcopal Conference. This accomplishment marked the beginning of long and vital support, one of the most important in the history of the hospital. The Accademia dei Lincei (Lincean Academy) gave St Mary's Hospital the 1995 Antonio Feltrinelli Award. An accounting system was established, annual financial reports began being produced and the board of directors of the hospital was renewed, meeting regularly since then.
Lucille continued to work six hours every day in the outpatient unit, despite only weighing 35 kg, and was fed intravenously. In April 1996, Piero took Lucille to Italy to try and improve her health. Since travelling on roads was extremely risky, the journey from the hospital to the bridge was carried out in an army helicopter, made available by Minister Bigombe. Despite treatment, Lucille's health continued to deteriorate. Lucille died in Besana on August 1, 1996 with Piero, Dominique and her husband Contardo, and her sister Lise, who had come from Canada, at her bedside. Piero brought her remains back to Uganda. In September Piero suffered his fourth heart attack.
Although the hospital had not been attacked since 1989, it was, however, in the midst of a war characterized by daily massacres and atrocities. Both direct victims, injured people by fire weapons and mines, and indirect victims, the 90% of the district population who lived in refugee camps in dramatic conditions, were casualties of the war. Diseases connected to poverty such as malaria, diarrhoea, and malnutrition, caused an extremely high child death rate. These diseases could have been largely prevented and even treated. (See pictures 1-2 "War in Children's Drawings")
In 2000, Lacor was in the pages of newspapers worldwide due to the Ebola outbreaks. Matthew recognized the outbreak, rang the alarm and organized the fight for its containment. He set up a specific isolated ward and recruited a group of voluntary staff. Experts arrived from all over the world, including specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based in Atlanta, and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. The CDC's "Special Pathogens Unit" set up an "on-site" laboratory at Laco. For the first time an Ebola epidemic was observed and the diagnosis was confirmed by on-site laboratory tests. Patients were also clinically treated, leading to significant scientific consequences. Of the more than 100 employees who accepted to work with Matthew in the isolation ward to transport suspected cases to the hospital or to bury the dead, 13 died after contracting the disease. Doctor Matthew Lukwiya also died of Ebola on December 5th, 2000, the last victim of the virus among the Lacor employees. On his deathbed, Matthew asked to be buried near Lucille and his final request was honoured.
The Ebola epidemic left a wave of fear and discouragement in the region. After several months, the worst was over and the hospital, having adopted all of the protective and diagnostic measures to be able to work in an area at high-risk of extremely dangerous infections, resumed work at full speed.
Since 2001, an international auditor has been certifying the hospital's financial statements.The hospital introduced its user manual and computerized its accounting and staff management procedures.
The hospital had to face an increasing number of nightly commuters in addition to its regular hospital activities.
In 2003, Doctor Dominique Corti was appointed member of the Board of Directors of the Hospital. Also in 2003 the Faculty of Medicine of the Gulu University was established. The Lacor became the university centre of the newly established state faculty.
The number of patients continued to grow and in 2007-2008, the figure reached more than 300,000 per year. A particularly rapid increase in hospitalisations was recorded, which doubled and became more than 40,000. Surgeries reached the threshold of 5,000 per year.
The hospital prepared its first strategic plan for 2007-2012. After Piero's death, Doctor Bruno Corrado, who had arrived at Lacor in 1992, took over the management of the hospital and began working in close contact with future hospital managers to prepare the handover to Ugandan managers. This important milestone was achieved in February 2008, when Doctor Opira Cyprian took the role of Executive Director, supported by Doctor Odong Emintone (Medical Director) and Doctor Ogwang Martin (Institutional Director).