In Ghana, Nursing Alumnus’ Organization Saves Lives One Bystander at a Time

Andrews Nyantakyi, A.B.S.N. ’22, is founder and executive director of the healthcare nonprofit Elijeko Foundation.

May 29, 2024

Andrews Nyantakyi demonstrates CPR on a mannequin at a training session organized by his nonprofit Elijeko Foundation. (Courtesy Elijeko Foundation)

Andrews Nyantakyi demonstrates CPR on a mannequin at a training session organized by his nonprofit Elijeko Foundation. (Courtesy Elijeko Foundation)

Andrews Nyantakyi has a sweeping ambition for his home country. “My goal for Ghana is that every individual will be able to know how to do effective CPR,” said the George Washington University School of Nursing alumnus, who is founder and executive director of the Elijeko Foundation. The nonprofit, which has promoted community health education and preventative care in Ghana since 2016, is currently focusing on training bystanders to perform pre-hospital interventions on patients in crisis, including both CPR and wound care. Elijeko’s Bystander CPR Initiative trainings are run in collaboration with the Ghanaian National Ambulance Service.

There are practical reasons to democratize and expand such training beyond healthcare professionals, Nyantakyi said. Many Ghanaian communities are rural, and even in urban centers, traffic congestion can mean emergency response times are slow. For some patients, a knowledgeable bystander could mean the difference between life and death.

Nyantakyi has seen that firsthand. Once, revisiting a bank where he'd once run a CPR training for security personnel, a guard approached to thank him, saying they’d been able to perform the lifesaving technique on a customer who lost consciousness. 

“That’s exactly what I am looking for—lay people who are not medical professionals but are able to really intervene quickly,” Nyantakyi said. “It’s amazing, the stories that we get.”

Nyantakyi’s personal story is amazing, too. He was raised primarily by his grandfather in Ghana, who died while he was still in junior high school. Without family support, Nyantakyi had to work multiple jobs and became temporarily homeless. Only the intervention of a classmate’s family allowed him to finish his high school education. Financial support from friends in the United States enabled him to study information technology as an undergraduate, and after emigrating to the U.S. with his wife in 2012, he joined the Navy in the assumption that he would either spend a decades-long career there or pivot to IT.

But when the couple’s eldest daughter was born in 2015, Nyantakyi became intimately aware of the meaningful impact good nursing could make. Baby Eliana—for whom the foundation is partially named, in combination with her sister Jekoliah—suffered from meconium aspiration syndrome and had to spend the first week of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It was an unbelievably difficult time for Nyantakyi, who remembered sometimes breaking down in his garage after maintaining a calm façade to work full time, visit his sick child and drive home.

“But it was amazing the way the nurses took care of her,” he said. “Just seeing the quality of care made me start to think ‘I should go back to school and learn what they’re doing.’ That was the turning point for me.”

Nyantakyi didn’t abandon his commitment to the Navy, even as he started to pivot to health care. He still prioritized giving back to Ghana and founded Elijeko in 2016 while he was a hospital corpsman at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The foundation initially focused on opening fully functional community clinics in fitted-out storage containers, an initiative inspired by Nyantakyi’s mother, whose untreated health condition worsened over decades because, she told her son, she’d have to drive too far and wait too long for treatment that she couldn’t afford anyway. “And this is the story of many people in Ghana,” Nyantakyi said.

Nyantakyi came to GW Nursing in 2021, in part on the recommendation of a friend from the Navy who touted GW’s mutually supportive student community, engaged professors and focus on preparation for the real world of full-time nursing.

“I think GW created a culture where students felt comfortable helping other students, and anytime you reached out to any of the professors, they were willing to come on board and help too,” Nyantakyi said. “GW was a community that would really help prepare you for your nursing career, not just your exams.”

And Nyantakyi’s career has taken him in unexpected directions. When he became an emergency room nurse, he saw firsthand the importance of quick, competent triage—and knew his foundation’s infrastructure could help train people to provide it. This year, Elijeko partnered with the Ghanaian military on “Stop the Bleed,” a training initiative modeled on a campaign by the U.S. Department of Defense that empowers quick, effective response to prevent blood loss. Nyantakyi believes this is a key skill for members of the military, even those for whom patient care is not part of their direct mission.

“One of the biggest things in Ghana is trauma from vehicle accidents,” he said. “People are dying because no one nearby knows how to control bleeding. So as our partnership is expanding with the military, part of that is saying: You guys are the protectors. So when we are able to give you more training, you will be able to train more of your citizens.”

To that end, he’ll return in October with a team to run a “train the trainer” program that will expand wound care and CPR training deeper into the community. But Nyantakyi’s ambitions for Ghanaian healthcare go even further than that. Nyantakyi fell ill with malaria on his most recent visit and had to make a hospital stay of his own, an ordeal that made him aware how little information is available in the country about patient care and provider certification.

“We are hoping to create patient safety ambassadors in hospitals throughout Ghana who will start collecting data and advocating for patients,” he said. “I'm really hoping that this is another way our organization will be able to empower people.”