Teaching is Healing
Teaching is Healing
Our medical team of board-certified otolaryngologists, anesthesiologists, and pathologists and their support staff of nurses, OR techs, and speech pathologists set up surgical camps in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda, where we provide continuing medical education to regional ENT surgeons while treating underserved communities with free healthcare.
In 1998, Dr. Henry Farrar, the founder of Nigerian Christian Hospital, contacted Dr. James Netterville, Professor of Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt, requesting help to treat his severely under-served patients. In February 1999, with a team of seven including Dr. Henry Farrar, Dr. David Netterville, Dr. James Netterville, Dr. Walter Cosby, and RN Prudie Childs, we naively departed for a two-week surgical camp with no surgical supplies.
Upon arrival, we were astounded at the excellent general and obstetric care being delivered in this small rural hospital with very, very limited resources. The operating theatre, with no cautery system and no continuous suction devices, was subject to constant power outages which would allow the room temperature to soar into the high 80s. To evacuate bleeding during the procedure, the surgeon, balancing on one foot, would manually activate a small foot pump, by pumping up and down on the foot pedal, creating a weak surgical suction, all the while continuing on with the delicate surgical procedure.
We worked closely with Dr. Robert Whitaker, an English OB Gyn surgeon who, along with his wife Annette, had spent 25 years serving in this community, During this first trip, we performed 75 advanced head & neck surgical procedures with no cautery or suction, commonly operating with camping headlights during the frequent power outages.
Throughout this experience, we developed the utmost respect for our African colleagues and all they accomplish with such limited resources. We departed with a tremendous sense of fulfillment, and a newfound purpose to return annually with a expanded team and advanced equipment and educational resources to assist these compassionate healthcare providers with their near-impossible task.
In successive years, we have learned from our previous mistakes. We bring thousands of pounds of medical supplies that have been donated, purchased or recycled from the operating rooms of our hospitals. Over the years, we have sought to improve the infrastructure of the locations we visit, including, in Nigeria, upgrading the operating theatre and entire hospital with American-grade electrical circuits to provide stable current for our medical equipment, and, in Kenya, welding metal furniture to keep our equipment organized and sterile.
Knowing that education is the primary path to improving the lives of these people, training has become our primary mission, working hand-in-hand with regional physicians, as we continue to deliver advanced patient care in underserved areas of Africa. Each trip is planned with regional academic physicians from African residency teaching center, producing a collaborative educational effort. This model has led to excellent continuity of care for the patients are followed by, and under the care of, our African colleagues after we depart. Doctors also come from adjoining African countries to attend our two-week surgical camp and bring their newfound specialist skills back to their communities.
Our primary mission is the surgical treatment of patients with tumors, congenital deformities, and rare diseases of the head and neck. Our belief is that lasting change only comes when we work with those who live in the local region, so we train local doctors alongside our own.