By Taylor Hendricks, operations manager for the NuVasive Spine Foundation (NSF).

It has been over a year since the NuVasive Spine Foundation (NSF) has been on the ground to direct medical mission trips at our primary partner sites in Honduras, Mexico, and the Eastern Caribbean. Due to the impacts of COVID-19, NSF temporarily shifted operations to a virtual model to continue providing spine care and training, while protecting the health and safety of our patients, local medical staff, and volunteers.

With travel restrictions starting to ease, we are excited to once again be at our partner sites helping provide life-changing spine surgery, training, and technology to medically under-resourced communities around the world.

Taylor Hendricks, NSF operations manager, and Dr. Matt Chapman

What is your role at the NuVasive Spine Foundation?

TH: As the Operations Manager, I am responsible for coordinating NSF medical mission trips. I manage, pack and transport the donated NuVasive surgical product needed for each trip, organize mission and volunteer logistics, capture photos and social content, and act as the team leader in-country for our partner organizations and volunteers.

What did this trip mean to you?

TH: No words can sum up how much my first medical mission trip meant to me. I am beyond grateful to play a role in helping our volunteer surgical teams use their expertise to help those who would not otherwise have access to this type of medical care. I’m humbled by what I witnessed and I am re-energized to put every ounce of passion I have back into my work with NSF.

What did a typical day look like on this medical mission trip?

TH: I started each day at 6 a.m. at the surgery center to help prepare the O.R. for the days’ cases. I learned from fellow volunteers how to make sure the room was clean, position the O.R. table correctly, and organize and sterilize the instruments and implants. It was truly a team effort and I was happy to lend a hand wherever I could.

Throughout the week, I continued to help with O.R. setup, assist with the pre- and post-operative care process, and learn how our team operates the clinic to assess patients who may be surgical candidates in the future.

Observing Dr. Joseph Stern and team work in the O.R.

What is something you will never forget from your first NSF mission trip?

TH: The pinnacle of my experience was the opportunity to scrub into a case in the O.R. and observe a truly life-changing spine surgery.

A 23-year-old patient had undergone emergency spine surgery five years ago following an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Over time, his lack of movement caused further degeneration of his spine. This led to complications with his spinal hardware which failed to keep his spine stabilized and began protruding just barely under his skin.

The NSF surgical team, led by Dr. Matt Chapman, removed and replaced the patient’s failed spinal hardware to create the opportunity for a new, healthy spinal fusion and ultimately stabilize his spine. The surgery went very well, and we were ecstatic to see him move some of the muscles in his legs for the first time since his accident. While it is unlikely that this patient will walk again, this surgery gave him the best chance for an improved quality of life. It was incredibly moving to be part of something that may allow this individual to regain at least some feeling and possible partial mobility in the lower half of his body.

Patient Mercedes after surgery with our medical volunteers and the local medical staff.

What was something that surprised you about the mission trip?

TH: I got to see humanity in its truest, kindest form. I think one thing that surprised me was how easily barriers were knocked down due to our common purpose despite different backgrounds, languages, and cultures.

The patients we helped are humble and many work physically intensive jobs to provide food and shelter for their families. Together, our team not only provided spine surgery to relieve them of their debilitating back pain, but also gave their family hope for continued survival in a country with extremely limited resources and opportunities.

What is one thing you want people to know about the work NSF does through their medical mission program?

TH: The NSF medical mission program focuses its time and resources on partner sites like this one in Honduras, that allow medical volunteers (surgeons, nurses, O.R. techs, anesthesiologist, physical therapist etc.) to provide life-changing spine surgery to patients who do not have access to this type of care.

NSF is always looking for passionate and skilled spine medical professionals to volunteer. If you are interested (or know someone who is) in helping provide spine care for medically under-served communities, click here to learn more about becoming an NSF medical mission volunteer.