Extending Our Mission: Training Colorectal Surgeons in Africa
This week the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction (CCPR) team leaves for a one-week trip to Cape Town, South Africa. The trip is devoted to caring for children with complex colorectal and pelvic abnormalities who otherwise have only limited access to surgical services. The surgical mission was organized with the collaboration of Mending Kids International, a wonderful organization that helps children throughout the world. They have not previously done a colorectal-based mission trip, and we are proud to partner with them. The goal of these missions is not to simply treat children but also to train local physicians and nurses to care for their own patients in the future.
It is a fundamental principle of these missions that children get the same standard of care in Cape Town as they would if they were being cared for at Nationwide Children’s.
Why Surgical Training Missions?
Why do we spend over 10 hours performing difficult anesthesia and surgical care, only to repeat the exercise for four more days? Why do we travel halfway around the world to work? It’s not exactly a relaxing way to spend our time. But those of us who volunteer for these missions do so because we love what we do.
We love doing surgery in Central Ohio, and we take that passion and that commitment to child health on the road. We understand that these children cannot possibly come to Columbus for their care, so we go to them. When we make this effort, we are helping hundreds of children we would not otherwise be able to serve. It is a special reward for us to not only make a difference in the life of a child in Central Ohio but also in the life in a child across the globe.
Over several years of volunteering in Cape Town, we have helped develop a Colorectal Center for the entire continent of Africa. Joining us in Cape Town this year will be more than 50 surgeons and nurses from around Africa to learn about colorectal problems. They will be participating in clinic visits, observing operations and joining in an interactive educational program. By spending the week observing and learning about the complex colorectal surgeries, doctors from around Africa can get the training they need to better treat their patients throughout the continent. In the past, we have done 30-35 operations in one week, which is about the number of patients most of those doctors operate on over the course of six months.
What Do We Really Do on a Mission?
On the first day of the mission, the surgeons will evaluate over 50 children that have been asked to come from all over the country. The evaluation not only helps us decide who needs surgery the most, but also helps educate the other surgeons through discussions about the subtleties of complex problems. We will review case histories, X-rays and laboratory studies to come up with a specific plan for each specific child. While we are there, we will be working with a wonderful institution called Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Their excellent physicians and staff will work with our own anesthetists to make sure these children are healthy enough for surgery by performing an anesthesia assessment. This clinic thus becomes an in-depth, intensive training session on the management of complex problems for the participating surgeons from throughout Africa. And since we like to bring a little fun to our mission trips, a team of volunteers will also be handing out 20 duffel bags’ worth of toys and stuffed animals that were collected here over the past year to children throughout the hospital.
This year, the Nationwide Children’s team travelling to Cape Town will include me and my good friends and colleagues Rama Jayanthi, Chief of Urology; Kate Deans and Pete Minneci, pediatric surgeons; Raj Thakkar, Richard Wood, and Victoria Lane, pediatric surgery/colorectal fellows; and Olamide Dairo, pediatric anesthesiologist. Surgeons and nurses from collaborating teams in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Israel and Seattle will be joining us for the surgical training mission.
As a result of the operations we will perform this week, many of these children will be continent and will be able to go to school. They will no longer need stoma bags and will be able to participate in all fun aspects of a normal child’s life — that’s why we are passionate about these trips and are happy to exchange a week of vacation for a week performing surgery and training other doctors from around the world.