El Salvador 2011
My El Salvador experience has been very rewarding and challenging, and it started in 1996. Since then I have made about 20 visits, usually lasting 10 days and involving 5 complete days of surgery. I not only perform surgery but run an outpatient clinic and have tried to provide educational updates/training for the local surgeons. This has resulted in a large network of physicians, now also including some of their plastic surgeons and neurosurgeons. As a direct result, the cases get more complex and often involve many services. As you can imagine, the greatest limiter is the lack of equipment.
The most helpful aspect of my clinic work has been the establishment of an effective spinal deformity screening program, and to date we have logged over 2,000 outpatient visits. Most of the surgery has also been spinal (over 300 cases), and we are perhaps the only mission program providing this service anywhere in the world. I have on occasion brought some of the more challenging cases back to Atlanta. I have adults down there always asking me to evaluate their conditions and have also sent some of them here as well.
I usually bring a small team so that we can be very mobile and not require a lot of local support. The hospital there (Benjamin Bloom Children’s) has always favored our campaign because I bring instruments and equipment that they have no access to. This has allowed us to operate through several political regimes; unfortunately, we are being challenged by their new communist party which has made my task more difficult and tedious. Without complaint, I have funded this trip out of my own resources, and several years ago actually started a non-profit corporation to help with the expenses. This year has proven to be more difficult due to rising airline ticket prices, less donated resources, and that I am taking more people (both fellows and 2 nurses). However, we will make it all work. I do greatly appreciate donated supplies, at all times, but recognize that fair time is often needed to allow for advanced planning.