This weekend, a team of pediatric specialists will be traveling from Columbus to Honduras to conduct a one week medical/surgical mission devoted to children with complex abnormalities of the genital and urinary tracts. The team consists of myself, Megan Schober (Urology Fellow), Joe Tobias (Chief of Anesthesia), Graciela Argote-Romero and Emmett Whitaker (Staff Anesthesiologists) and Anna Staudt (Pediatric Anesthesiology Fellow). In San Pedra Sula, we will be joined by former NCH staff members Ashay Patel (Arkansas Children’s Hospital) and Doug Storm (University of Iowa), who did their training here in Columbus.
The surgical mission was organized through the offices of the International Volunteers in Urology (IVU), an organization based in Salt Lake City, that sends teams throughout the world to countries in need of complex urological care. The motto of IVU is “Teach One, Reach Many” and the goal of these missions is not to simply treat children but also to train local physicians to care for their own patients. I have seen this philosophy in action in that this will be my fourth trip to Honduras and we will now be doing much more complex surgeries than before, since the local pediatric surgeons have been trained during prior IVU trips to handle more routine problems
On the first day of the mission a clinic will be held where the surgeons will evaluate over 100 children that have been asked to come from all over the country. The clinic serves not only for triage but also for education in that team members will have discussions with our local surgical hosts about the subtleties of complex problems. We will review case histories, x-rays and laboratory studies to come up with a specific plan for a specific child. This clinic thus becomes an in depth, intensive training session on the management of complex genitourinary problems.
Equally important to the surgical evaluation, is the anesthesia assessment. It is a fundamental principle of these missions that children get the same standard of care in Honduras as they would if they were being cared for at NCH. Thus, Dr Tobias and his team will evaluate these children to ensure that they are healthy enough for surgery. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to have to cancel a surgery due to malnutrition, a common problem in developing countries. Safety is paramount.
People often wonder why we go on these missions. Why do we subject ourselves to the stress of over 10 hours of difficult anesthesia and surgical care, only to repeat the exercise for 4 more days. After all, each of us is busy enough in our regular jobs and one would think that it may be more rational to spend a week at the beach or take a cruise to decompress. However, those of us who volunteer for these missions do so because we love what we do. We love doing it in Central Ohio, and we take that passion and that commitment to excellence on the road. It is gratifying that we are able to not only make a difference in the life of a child in Central Ohio but also to the life in a child in another continent.
As a result of these surgical missions, some children will be able to be parents themselves someday. Other children who are constantly ill due to kidney infections or are still in diapers due to major anatomical abnormalities will now be able to run and play like everyone else. A few parents can finally know if they have a boy or a girl.
International medical missions play an important role in the career of many physicians at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We, in Central Ohio, are fortunate to have world class medical care in our own backyard available for our own children and our humility drives us to extend that care to children all over the world.
Follow the team on Twitter @NCHUrology as they go on this amazing journey.
Rama Jayanthi, MD, is Chief of the Section of Pediatric Urology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery in the Department of Urology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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