Annual Medical Mission Trip Planned
In February 2015, a group of physicians from Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology & Plastic Surgery Institute will travel to Chile, Honduras and other underserved countries to provide needed medical care and surgery for children.
The annual expedition, now in its fifth year, also brings necessary medical supplies and equipment to the areas, and offers education and training to local doctors.
Cleveland Clinic physician Gaby Doumit, MD,
and a young patient in Honduras
during the 2014 medical mission trip
“We treat many children with burns and craniofacial deformities, such as cleft lip and palate,” says Institute Chair Frank Papay, MD. “In many countries, all of the cooking is done over an open flame, so burns are common. Sadly, some children with deformities are abandoned by their parents because of the cultural belief that it is a punishment from God.”
A Journey from the Heart
Their organization, Cleveland Cares Medical Missions, hosts one event each summer to raise funds for purchasing antibiotics and other medications, sterile disposable gowns and gloves, surgical instruments, anesthetic instruments and special sutures.
“All of the donations from our fundraising event go toward supplies,” Dr. Papay says. This year’s event will take place Aug. 2, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Panini’s in Westlake.
The mission trips are for two weeks, with physicians using their vacation time and paying out of pocket for all expenses, including airfare. They sleep in local families’ homes, sometimes on the floor, because there are no hotels.
Dr. Papay says conditions can be primitive and facilities archaic. “I’m a highly specialized surgeon, but there, the only equipment I really have is a stethoscope,” he says. “I remember once operating while another doctor was holding a flashlight because the lights had gone out. That was all we had.”
Differences in Healthcare
The juxtaposition is clear: “In the States, you don’t appreciate the beauty of a surgical light. It’s much easier here, but most Americans don’t appreciate that,” he says.
Dr. Papay says that in the countries they visit, nursing staff is so scarce that family members must care for patients during the day, feeding, bathing and walking with them. He recalls one year doing 50 surgeries in a week and still having to turn away patients.
“You’re exhausted, but you get through it. You bond with the doctors you’re traveling with and forge lasting friendships,” he says, noting that he’s still in touch with doctors from all over the world whom he met through the years of medical missions. “It’s also a wonderful, humbling experience for medical residents.”
Training for Obsolescence
Medical education is an important goal of the trip. Local doctors are trained in post-op care so they will know what to do for patients if there are complications. “We are sharing our knowledge and skills, and teaching them how to do the surgeries and care so we are not needed,” Dr. Papay says. “Our job is really to make ourselves obsolete.”