A surgical mission trip to the Honduras was such a fulfilling experience for Dr. Douglas Huene, Jessica Lapena and Gwen Eslinger, all three Delta County residents plan to return to the Central American country. The trip was arranged through Global Health Outreach, a ministry affiliated with the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, of which Dr. Huene is a member.
As an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Huene's primary focus was hip and knee replacements for indigent patients. Gwen Eslinger, a surgical tech, and Jessica Lapena, a registered nurse who circulates through the operating room, are both employed at Delta County Memorial Hospital. In the Honduras, their team included five orthopaedic surgeons, four registered nurses, two technicians and a prayer team.
The first step was evaluating patients to determine who would get the free joint replacements. How serious was their disability? Had they tried other solutions? How debilitated were they by their problem?
Multiple patients in multiple locations waiting for hours with their families then went home to wait some more for a phone call letting them know they'd been selected for surgery. One of the last candidates was contacted at 11 p.m. the night before surgery was to take place. She made the four-hour drive and showed up at the hospital at 3 a.m.
Evaluations took place on Saturday and surgeries were scheduled Monday-Friday. The five surgeons successfully completed 43 operations.
Training was an important component of the mission trip, as the U.S. doctors worked side by side with Honduran physicians and nurses. The training provided in the Honduras does not include any joint replacement experience, Dr. Huene explained. Only by working with doctors from the U.S. can they gain that knowledge. Dr. Huene speaks some Spanish and said he managed to communicate well enough to perform surgeries and share his techniques.
"The best part of this experience was helping patients who financially had no resources whatsoever and therefore no hope of getting care their entire lives," Dr. Huene explained. "By going and doing this you're giving these patients an opportunity to live a life with less pain, more function and for a lot of the younger people, the ability to support their families. It's amazing to see these patients in a functional status in their jobs yet with these incredible disabilities."
Overall, Dr. Huene said his patients were healthier than many Americans. The Hondurans have a more active lifestyle, less obesity, and don't seem to indulge in drinking and smoking to excess.
On post-op visits, Dr. Huene and his staff were greeted by happy faces, smiles and thank yous.
"Despite having no pain medication after surgery they were all very grateful and never complained of pain," Dr. Huene said.
There were 12 people to a hospital room and meals and many other services were provided by family members. By U.S. standards, sterility was lacking but patients served by the Global Health Outreach have never suffered post-op infections.
"Infection is always a concern, but we realize we do the best we can with what we know."
Dr. Huene talked about one man whose knees had been fused in a bent position as long as he could remember. Although he walked "like a monkey," with his knees bent, he was still working and supporting his family. Dr. Huene reports he woke up in the recovery room and started praising God because he hadn't seen his knees straight in his 48 years.
"If someone comes in to Delta County Memorial Hospital with a broken hip and they need a replacement, they get a replacement," Dr. Huene explained. "There, they ask if you can you afford a replacement and if you say no, they ask if you can afford screws, a more inferior but cheaper way of fixing the problem. If patients can't afford the screws, they're told to come back when they find the money. Or, they'll take the hip out and leave the patient without a hip."
Gwen was particularly impressed by the Honduran doctors and nurses who worked long hours despite the fact they hadn't been paid for months. Rather than complain about the additional workload, they pooled their money and bought the Americans lunch from McDonald's on their last day in the Honduras.
When they weren't in the operating room or evaluating patients, the Americans visited an after school program and the Valley of Angels, a mountain village known for its handicrafts.
The church-run after school program helps fill the gaps in the children's education which occur every year when the teachers go on strike for about half the school year. Without the supplemental lessons, the children would quickly fall behind.
In March, Dr. Huene will make a return trip with his two older children, Brian, 21, and Aidan, 19, both students at Oral Roberts University. Brian and Aidan will be part of the prayer team but will also help out in the operating room cleaning and organizing instruments.
Dr. Huene traveled to Afghanistan with his father, also an orthopaedic surgeon, in 1976 and has taken part in a couple of mission trips to Juarez, Mexico, which focused on construction. This trip was similar in nature, yet more focused in that the surgeons knew exactly what they would be doing.
"You can't just show up and start doing joint replacements," Dr. Huene explained. Successful operations require the right implants and the right equipment, all of which had to be lined up in advance. Zimmer and Biomet, leaders in knees and hips, provided the implants plus some instruments.
"This was a great experience for me and I'm pleased to make it more of a longterm thing," Dr. Huene said.blog comments powered by Disqus