The Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery is an avid supporter of medical mission trips. Faculty, trainees and staff who express an interest to serve abroad are encouraged to do so. We have sent clinicians on trips to Peru, Guatemala, Kenya and more. Examples of these trips are highlighted below.
Medical Mission Trip to Migori, Kenya
In September 2013, 10 healthcare providers from the University of Michigan Health System, along with clinicians from the Henry Ford Health System, St. John Providence Health System, McLaren Healthcare and the Detroit Medical Center, traveled across the world to Migori, Kenya for a medical mission trip. This trip is one of 20 annual short-term medical mission trips sponsored by Kenya Relief.
The UMHS volunteers included: Elizabeth A. Studley, CRNA, nurse anesthetist; Sandra Cocciolone, CST, surgical technologist; Kathryn Trombley, CRNA, nurse anesthetist; Christine M. Messner, R.N., nurse; Gale T. Otremba, R.N., nurse; Sarah R. Walton, M.D., anesthesiologist; and Brian M. Kurtz, PharmD, pharmacist; as well as our department's Gregory J. Basura, M.D., Ph.D, otologist
; and Bianca Waller, R.N., operating room scrub nurse. Their focus, along with the clinicians from the participating institutions, was on diseases of the head and neck and general surgical problems. Together, this dedicated team treated approximately 600 medical and surgical patients in just three days.
For some of the volunteers, this was their first medical mission trip.
"I always wanted to go on a trip like this, but the timing was never right," says Bianca Waller. "I finally decided to go about 8 weeks before the trip. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made."
The need for medical expertise in Kenya is great. Current technology and equipment are scarce. The patient/physician ratio is more than 100 times greater in Kenya than the United States due to limited availability of appropriate medical education and training for Kenyans. Most of the medical experts in Kenya are centrally located in Nairobi, leaving limited access to advanced healthcare in the poorer and more rural areas of the country.
Patients fill the clinic hallways as they wait to be seen.
"Some of the patients we treated traveled miles and days on foot to get to us. Once they arrived at our clinic, they would then continue to wait in hot tents outside. Despite their exhaustion, they smiled," says Sandra Cocciolone. "Seeing their desire and commitment to receive care— it made us want to work even harder."
The typical clinic day began bright and early, with a home cooked breakfast at 6 a.m. The team would then pull together and review announcements before making the five minute van ride to the clinic. All operating rooms would be in use by 8 a.m., two cases per room, and would run until at least 7 p.m. The nurses would turn over the patients as the physicians triaged them, allowing the team to complete a total of 68 surgeries. Procedures included but were not limited to thyroid goiter removal, cleft lip/palate repair, hernia repair and ear surgery.
The team faced several challenges, including intermittent power outages and even a flood in the post-anesthesia care unit.
"It's amazing what work you can do with so little," says Dr. Basura. "It was a very fluid environment, and the unexpected became the norm. But we banded together—27 individuals from different institutions and backgrounds—to do our best for the patients."
For many of the volunteers, the opportunity to interact and build relationships with the people of Kenya was invaluable.
"The Kenyan people are so resilient. They are thankful, polite and kind, despite having so little," says Sandra Cocciolone.
In addition to their work at the clinic, the team also enjoyed three days on safari at the Maasai Mara National Game Reserve, Africa's greatest wildlife reserve. Although the team had a great time exploring nature and indulging in the beauty of the animals, everyone agreed that the purpose of the mission is to serve those in need.
"The clinic had all of us asking ourselves, 'How can I do more? What can I do to make a difference here?'" says Dr. Kurtz.
For the UMHS volunteers, this won't be their last mission trip. All agreed that they will go on another trip.
"You don't come back from a trip like this the same as when you left," says Gale Otremba. "It changes you."
Read more about this trip in "A Mission for Medicine," a feature article in the February 2014 issue of HOUR Detroit magazine.
Before and after microtia reconstruction
Dr. Jennifer Kim Provides Microtia Reconstruction Services to Children and Young Adults in Peru and Guatemala
Through these organizations, Dr. Kim travels twice per year to Antigua, Guatemala and annually to Cusco, Peru with other volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, medical and dental specialists to provide care for children and young adults suffering with cleft lip and palate deformities and microtia. Dr. Kim provides microtia reconstruction and helps to teach native medical students and surgeons. Due to the complexities of microtia reconstruction, it may take 3-4 years to complete ear reconstruction. Volunteers like Dr. Kim help to heal over 1,000 children per year.