Thursday, 14 May 2009 13:17
Poverty and desolation have many faces. Imagine a 9-year-old girl, born with a severe club foot, barely able to walk because the sole of her foot was inverted. Or, a 60-year-old grandmother with severe arthritis who needed crutches to walk from her bed to a chair. In the poor African country of Equatorial Guinea, such distressing stories are not unusual. But for these two people, and 15 of their countrymen, hope now exists thanks to an experienced orthopedic surgical team from Glen Cove Hospital who traveled to this remote corner of the world to perform life-altering joint replacement surgeries, free of charge to their desperately poor patients.
The surgical team, led by Eugene Krauss, MD, the hospital’s chief of orthopedics, and orthopedic surgeon Ayal Segal, MD, (Dr. Segal’s 18-year-old daughter, Yarden, a Long Island high school senior and pre-med student, also participated in the journey) included two physician’s assistants, a nurse educator and two operating room technicians. Working at a rapid pace, this altruistic team of medical professionals performed 19 total joint replacement surgeries in three days,10 hips and nine knees.
On a happy note, the little girl with the club foot had her deformity repaired during one surgery. She now wears a cast and is expected to make a full recovery. And, following double-knee replacement surgery, the grandmother who spent 12 years on crutches can now walk on her own once more.
The surgical mission, which was eight months in the planning, took place during the week of March 13-21. The team overcame significant logistical hurdles, which included managing a mountain of paperwork and getting approvals from the Equatorial Guinea government to perform the surgeries, they said. Equally challenging were the tasks of screening patients and coordinating information with the medical staff at Centro Medico La Paz in Bata (the country’s capital), the 140-bed, modern medical facility where the surgeries took place. (As a point of reference, it took the surgical team more than 24 hours and several connecting flights to travel from New York to their destination in Bata). Prior to the trip, staff at Glen Cove Hospital packed and shipped more than 100 crates of medical supplies, instruments, medications, implants and surgical equipment.
A key player in the process was Sergey Boykov, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and former colleague of Dr. Segal’s who trained with him in medical school in Israel. Dr. Boykov screened patients, reviewed X-rays and patient histories, evaluated medical risks for surgery, etc. so the medical team would be up to speed when they arrived.
To understand the complexity of the team’s mission, they offered a little history to be considered. Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, has a population of about a half-million people. Most of the natives have no access to health care; instead, they rely on traditional and tribal medicine. Recognizing the need to improve healthcare in the country, the government of Equatorial Guinea made the decision to build the high-tech Centro Medico La Paz facility five years ago. The hospital currently has about 300 staff members; of that number, 80 doctors and nurses are Israelis working on a contractual basis.
It was this international flavor that posed a unique challenge to the team. Since the country is a former Spanish colony, patients spoke Spanish. During the mission, Spanish-speaking staff members often had to translate information into Hebrew. (Fortunately, Dr. Krauss, Dr. Segal and his daughter spoke Hebrew). In turn, Hebrew-speaking staff had to translate their findings into English for the American staff. To assist with the language issues, a professional translator was on hand at all times.
The surgical mission was sponsored by Glen Cove Hospital, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System; Biomet Inc., which donated more than $500,000 in high-tech implants and instruments; the non-profit Krauss Foundation for Health and Humanity; and the government of Equatorial Guinea.
The team’s two leaders were very clear about the importance of international medical missions. “In Africa, there is a tremendous need for joint replacement surgery,” said Dr. Segal. “We saw people with congenital deformities, traumatic injuries and severe arthritis. Without surgery, they would have no possibility of walking.”
Dr. Krauss agreed. “If you rob people of their ability to walk, you also rob them of their ability to exist. Our team was able to provide surgery to 17 patients. Not only was their mobility restored, but their dignity as well.”