A team of six surgeons and five anesthesiologist, three from the University of Arizona, completed more than 116 major surgical procedures during an eight-day period in an area of the Philippines recovering from an earthquake and typhoon.
More than 16 million people were affected by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013. Though aid is shifting from emergency response to recovery, technical and material resources still are needed to support health-care services where the typhoon caused $16 million in damages to 571 health-care clinics.
Anthony R. Lucas, MD, chief of thoracic anesthesia and director of the post anesthesia care unit at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson Department of Anesthesiology, traveled to the island of Bohol as part of a medical mission team to provide specialty care to those in need. Dr. Lucas has mentored residents on medical missions to Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the South Pacific, in addition to missions in the Philippines.
Both current and former resident-physicians, including Benjamin D. Garol, MD, chief resident-physician for the 2013-14 class, have participated in the medical missions as part of their training.
With minimal standard equipment, most of which consisted of supplies the team brought themselves, they performed hysterectomies, mastectomies, thyroidectomies and other surgeries at the Borjas Hospital in Tagbilaran, Bohol. The surgical team partnered with ancillary staff, as well as the local staff working tirelessly, performing surgeries that otherwise would not have been possible. Renato Rivera, MD, a general surgeon from Breese, Ill., was born on the Island of Bohol and serves as the team leader and has been the pioneer for the surgical mission.
Rifat Latifi, MD, professor in the UA Department of Surgery, and Joan Harper, MD, former assistant professor at the UA Department of Anesthesiology, are strong advocates for the medical mission and have contributed to its continued success for nearly a decade.
“My experiences in Bohol have been in one word, amazing,” Dr. Lucas said. “From the moment we step off the plane, we are embraced by warm and friendly locals and as we see our patients the appreciation and humility is evident. The operations performed by our caring staff bring wonderful results, especially given the lack of equipment and less-than-ideal operating conditions. The quality and caliber of the wonderful surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, technicians and volunteers are what make our mission successful. It is a blessing to have these opportunities and we look forward to many more.”
The medical mission team works with the Gift of Life, a local Bohol organization. The Gift of Life team does the initial social and health screening of the patients and is led by the efforts of Fancy Baluyot, RN, the organization’s president. She is supported by the island’s Gov. Edgar Chatto. The patients then are evaluated by the surgery team members and added to the surgical wait list. More than 800 people are on the waiting list for surgeries.
The UA Department of Anesthesiology, thanks to the support of its Chairman Wayne Jacobsen, MD, encourages medical missions and the exchange of health-care knowledge in remote areas of the world. In addition to the medical mission to the Philippines, the department recently shared expertise on a two-week medical mission to Ghana and has plans to support medical missions to Honduras and Panama in 2015.