Super Heroes Are Real!

By Maria Seiders (WSF Support Staff Volunteer)

My name is Maria Seiders. I am from Harrisburg, PA, and this is my first time volunteering with the World Surgical Foundation. I am sharing my experience from a postoperative perspective. What you are about to read may be a little different from past WSF blogs but I trust you will be able to feel my experiences through this.

The mission is going smoothly, and all surgeries performed so far have been successful. WSF is not only blessed with volunteers from central PA and other U.S. neighbors like Nova Scotia but also Hong Kong and Manila assembling a team of true super heroes. As a first time volunteer, I have been assisting in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) for the last 4 days and have seen so much that my emotions are flooded with both happiness and sadness.

It brings me joy to see the 16-year-old boy finally getting to live a normal life after having a colostomy closure but pains me to see him lie on a rusty hospital bed with a piece of cardboard as his mattress. My own family values are reinforced when I see a young child comforting her mother after surgery, staying night after night in a hot, humid room filled with 30 other post-op patients. Despite these sad conditions there is not one complaint from the Filipinos. Instead they are beyond grateful. The “thank you’s” never stop. The hugs we receive for being here come daily. And the pictures!! I’ve probably had my picture taken with over 20 patients by family members who want to remember their WSF friends forever.

Without blinking an eye the World Surgical Foundation came to save these people, but if we keep our eyes open even longer, we see they have also saved us. They’ve inspired us and showed us what courage, strength, and sacrifice really mean. We are their heroes but they are ours as well.

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Patient Screening and Mission Setup at GSCH

By Arantxa Sison (WSF Support Staff Volunteer)

All volunteers of the World Surgical Foundation were transported from their accommodations at Roadhaus Hotel to General Santos City Hospital (GSCH) the morning of 16 February 2014 by 10 AM. Just outside the entrance of the hospital, large tents were positioned as a waiting area for prospective patients. The tents were filled to capacity. According to Asma Akmad, Special Project Officer from Govenor Solon’s office, prior to WSF’s arrival potential patients and/or caregivers were asked to give a voluntary donation of blood to the Filipino Red Cross. This gesture fostered ownership among the beneficiaries of free surgical care and a sense that they, too, contributed to a necessary and worthy cause.

In the words of Dr. Ofelia Kaguyutan, “Surgical camps always promote and encourage ingenuity and improvisation.” Those words rang true from Day 1. The first day at GSCH began with support staff unpacking and organizing medical equipment, medicines and supplies that would be utilized during the six-day surgical camp. WSF volunteer surgeons screened and assessed patients in two large rooms prepared by GSCH staff. Each surgical specialty had a designated intake station. The majority of the day was spent screening and assessing patients and preparing the operating rooms for the following day.

Hernias, bowel issues, anorectal repairs, penile malformations, cleft lips and palates, goiters (non-toxic), thyroids, bladder repairs, TURPS (prostate/ kidney), hydroceles (prostate), tumors, cysts, and hysterectomies were the types of procedures that were slated to be completed during the six-day surgical camp. After screenings and assessments, it soon became clear that the World Surgical Foundation’s humanitarian campaign at GSCH would have to be limited to “critical cases,” cases which are complicated in nature, taking hours to complete in some instances and that would put to best use the surgical specialists’ expertise and time. Unfortunately, only several “lumps and bumps” (less complicated cases) would be attended to during this year’s surgical camp.

WSF team members left GSCH on the first day with a sense of anticipation of what the next five days would hold. The first day at the hospital also gave all members of the surgical camp, local and foreign, the opportunity to get to know one another, coordinate care, and begin to collaborate as one unit toward a specific goal — that of improving the lives of patients and in some cases, saving them. The common denominators among participants was a spirit of volunteerism, the principles of humanitarian assistance, and the overriding belief in providing care to the most vulnerable among us.

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Safe Travels to General Santos City, Mindanao, Philippines

By Arantxa Sison (WSF Support Staff Volunteer)

Some East Coast members of the World Surgical Foundation raced to leave Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ahead of an impending snow storm on Wednesday, 12 February 2014. With East Coast flights canceled, a bus was chartered to drive volunteers through the night from Harrisburg to Detroit International Airport. The bus left Harrisburg at 11 PM with snow already accumulating on the ground and drove eight hours through falling snow and icy conditions. WSF arrived safely at the Detroit airport in plenty of time to check-in and board the 3 PM flight to Nagoya, Japan. After having traveled by bus for eight hours and 500 miles (800 km), the next stages of WSF’s travels: a 13.5 hour flight to Japan, a connection to Manila, and the final destination of General Santos City in the Philippine archipelagos southernmost tip, seemed “easy”.

Once volunteers arrived in Manila at midnight, travel became seamless with the coordination by WSF’s Filipino hosts. The East Coast contingent of WSF made the transfer from international to domestic terminals with all the luggage, medical supplies, and medical equipment via an awaiting shuttle. The flight to General Santos City, Mindanao departed as scheduled at 6 AM. Needless to say, upon arrival in GenSan less than two hours later, most volunteers were exhausted. But they were ecstatic travels were over and excited their humanitarian work would soon commence.

At General Santos International Airport most volunteers thought the World Surgical Foundation had coincidentally happened upon a celebration. Festive music was playing just outside baggage claim. To our surprise, the local hosts in the City of General Santos and Sarangani Province had organized a marching band composed of talented local youths to greet and welcome the foundation volunteers to their magnificent city and province. There was a large banner which read “Welcome World Surgical Foundation” and once WSF team members realized they were being so graciously welcomed in this manner, tiredness from the travels immediately disappeared. The music and performance was truly spectacular and simply a preview of exactly how gracious, accommodating and hospitable our hosts would prove to be during the entirety of the surgical camp.

The rest of the arrival day was spent getting acclimated to the new time zone and resting at the Roadhaus Hotel. Accommodations at the Roadhaus were courtesy of Congressman Manny Pacquiao and Vice Governor Jinkee Pacquiao. Later that evening, World Surgical Foundation volunteers were treated to a welcoming dinner. Local dignitaries were in attendance such as Governor Steve Solon, Dr. Arvin Alejandro, Sarangani Provincial Health Office, General Santos City Mayor, Ronnel Rivera, and Director of General Santos City Hospital, Dr. Benjamin Pagarigan along with other officials from General Santos City, Sarangani Province, and General Santos City Hospital. Dr. Domingo Alvear, founder of the World Surgical Foundation, and Dr. Lester Suntay from Makati Medical Center also made brief introductory speeches and thanked our most generous hosts.

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Skill and Preparation

Ready for anything, Dr. Alvear’s first case today was off schedule and without batting an eye he was completely prepared for a baby boy delivered in the wee hours of the morning diagnosed with gastroschisis. The newborn was actually born with an abdominal wall defect called an omphalocele in which the intestines, liver, and occasionally other organs remain outside the abdomen in a sac and is associated with a high mortality rate (25%) and severe malformations. Once again WSF stepped in with God’s hands and saved another life because Dr. Alvear happened to bring a “silo” which is a plastic pouch to gently squeeze the intestines and other organs into the belly. I later spoke with Dr. Alvear who said that he sees these “surgical mission surprises” and is always prepared for such cases.  He also performed a colon interposition today. It is rare that a surgeon might encounter two of these procedures in his or her whole career and Dr. Alvear has done one in the first two days and expects to two more by the end of the week.

The most anticipated procedure of the day was an eight-year-old boy who was having reconstructive surgery on his ear, in which Dr. Leber took a piece of cartilage from his ribs and created a perfect ear where there were just bumps and malformations that looked nothing like an ear before. Video and before and after shots were priority for us today, because how the whole thing went was spectacular.  Witnessing this is the most moving and special opportunity I have ever been gifted. I may be redundant, but it feels so huge to be a part of this mission. The sheer medical brilliance and gifted staff makes me wonder why only a few special doctors of this caliber have taken their time and spent their own money to participate. If only the rest of the world could see all that is being done here, I know that WSF doctors and volunteers would be unstoppable in helping these people.

For some reason the general surgeons are booked solid with gallbladders and decided on alternating back and forth. I wonder if there is something specific about Hondurans and their gallbladders or if it’s the same everywhere. There just seems to be an unbelievable number of gallbladders that Dr. Rovito and Dr. Delone are repairing laparoscopically or removing the organ altogether. They worked together on the last case because of a complication during a previous gallbladder surgery where Dr. Delone spent three hours on one patient. Dedicated but making the general surgeons’ already long day even longer.

I haven’t mentioned much about what’s going on in the vascular OR because their first few cases took much longer than expected. Dr. Campbell brought some of his own supplies, as he explained to me on the bus ride to the hospital this morning. He uses a Gore-Tex product to recreate femoral veins in patients whose vascular system has completely lost accessibility for IV’s after years of dialysis or multiple IV use. One was a young woman who had been on dialysis for years and at only ten needed to have a new femoral vein created by using veins in the opposites legs reattaching them with the Gor-Tex vein. She will have a fully functioning vascular system in hours thanks to the excellent work of Dr. Karima Fitzgerald and Dr. Joe Campbell. The vascular room always includes the awesome anesthesiology of Luis Lara or Dr. “Eskor” Inyang.

The ORs are always rocking out with great music as many surgeons prefer operating while music is playing, maybe to help them relax and get into the magic of what they are doing. When Dr. Rovito stepped in on a small bowel evisceration he put his iPod speakers on immediately before scrubbing in. Ironically playing Guns N’ Roses “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”… I commented on the irony of his choice of music and he responded, “He’s just tappin’ that’s all, he won’t be seeing heaven’s doors anytime soon… certainly not on my watch!”

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Ready. Set. Go.

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No Monday Blues

With the first “cuts” scheduled for 8 AM and fighting travel weariness getting to the hospital, we needed the operating rooms ready and the line of scheduled cases already waiting brings me to tears. I see the first little boy getting a massive cleft lip repaired and the parents beside themselves for this opportunity, free plastic surgery and his returning home handsome and complete with aftercare meds in hand.

All the while, Dr. Alvear, who is gifted beyond words, working his magic on an esophagus, never even left the operating room. His brilliance with pediatrics leaves him at the table from start of day to finish. No break. No lunch. I feel a part of something so much bigger than myself and anything I can do. Contemplating going back to school to be a nurse or other career in the medical field. It’s impossible not to feel this way when lives are being saved with tears of gratitude.

Around 11 o’clock I see a patient on gurney coming up the hallway holding the large intestine outside his body. This is a case from the hospital’s ER with the patient waiting 8 hours without as much as a diagnosis. I watched the eyes of Dr. Peter Rovito and Dr. Karima Fitzgerald light up and with one local surgeon on call the World Surgical Foundation surgeons scrubbed in. With four more hands, this man who waited hours in the waiting room with bowels in his lap due to a botched procedure a few days prior had his surgery revised and everything intact within 45 minutes. I love this stuff!!!

I even witnessed one of our anesthesiologists, Dr. Asuquo “Eskor” Inyang, mopping the floor himself to get an OR ready speeding up the turnover rate. After only the first day coming to a close WSF, thanks to all of the volunteers, donations, and medical supplies is filling up the PACUs (Post Anesthesia Care Units). Neurosurgery has an unprecedented 13 surgeries scheduled, while previous mission have only had one or two neurological cases. Maybe they just didn’t know their problems could be fixed by working on the brain alone. Dr. Ostdahl and Dr. Payne have their hands and minds busy this week with all of these cases.

I am amazed and so impressed at the work being done here. Tomorrow will be another day reporting on the legendary work that is the World Surgical Foundation.

Posted in Honduras, Honduras 2013 | 1 Comment

Zero Day Gallery

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And So It Begins

Volunteering on a mission with the World Surgical Foundation has turned out to be more of a life changing experience than I could have ever even imagined. When we arrived, despite red-eye flight exhaustion, we came en mass to the Dr. Mario Catarino Rivas Hospital and hit the ground running. With the volunteer surgeons doing consultations and the nurses and support staff (myself included) setting up the stock room.

My first encounter as I walked through the doors, armed with my spanglish abilities, was being approached by a woman in tears with a picture of a her beautiful ten-year-old daughter who is completely paralyzed on the left side. I wish I could fix her myself, but with confidence I told her to go to the clinic and in my heart knew that somehow WSF would help her. I saw so many people who will finally get the help they need, at no cost, with nothing but the hearts of the WSF staff. The surgeons saw patients for hours and scheduled as many patients as possible.

Now we are ready for the first day of surgery on Monday. Invigorated, exhausted, excited and emotional are the words to sum up the day for me. I would be remiss not to mention the fact the these surgeons are bringing their gifts to change the lives of as many people as possible out of the goodness of their hearts at their own cost. I am a habitual volunteer and have never felt the work I’m participating in is going to actually make a difference. Sometimes I volunteer and spin in circles trying to give food to a homeless drug addict who declines my offer of a meal wanting only money. Here, a child with a terrible cleft lip is going to have an infinitely talented plastic surgeon repair it and the gratitude is palpable.

Posted in Honduras, Honduras 2013 | Leave a comment

A Personal Introduction

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Mikaela Maria Lannan and am not a newcomer to community service. My family has a foundation called the Lannan Foundation that works in the social and art/literary world so as a new volunteer for the World Surgical Foundation I come to Honduras with an open mind and heart to the philanthropic medical sector of service. Unafraid of blood and not easily grossed out, I expect to be nothing but amazed and am proud to be a part of the work that is the World Surgical Foundation. These are things I am sure of that there are surgeons beyond talented and community of people in medical need. The first sight of the dilapidated hospital we will be working in gave me a clear idea that we will be welcomed and desperately needed.  Needless to say I am ready to get my hands dirty and jump in.

Hospital Nacional Dr. Mario Catarino Rivas


Hospital Security


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Coron District Hospital: A Perspective from our Hosts

Collaborative. Kind. Warm. Open. Accommodating. Friendly. These are the words echoed by volunteers in the hospital halls when describing the new relationships formed between Coron District Hospital staff and WSF volunteers. “We depend on them,” says Christina Prudencio, a nurse on her 3rd WSF mission, who handles the patient surgery schedule. As a very hands-on operation, WSF has volunteers and hospital staff working closely to direct patients to each other in preparation for surgery. “Everything is so organized, and everyone is so helpful,” said Mayette, the chief nurse of Coron District Hospital and one who has worked here for 32 years. “I was so touched to see Dr. Jason cleaning the tables, and doctors/nurses moving patients from OR beds to recovery room,” said Judith, head OR nurse and staff member of 22 years. ‘Service’ was the word they both used to describe their time at the hospital and our mission trip this week. What an honor for our work to be thought of at the same level as theirs.

Most importantly, it’s a space to share healthcare practices. Outside of the operating room, Sister Margaret and some recent nurse graduates volunteering from the local Rural Health Unit (RHU) discuss the practice of inserting an IV into patients and the cultural norms surrounding it.  Inside the operation room, doctors show unique techniques of their own specialty in how they perform surgery. There’s a strong commitment to educate and learn on these mission trips.

WSF Volunteer Nurses Sister Margaret Haubrich and Cecelia Fernandez with RHU Volunteers Ivy, Mitzi, Kristine, Jaden, Mai, Orange

WSF Volunteer Nurses Sister Margaret Haubrich and Cecelia Fernandez with RHU Volunteers Ivy, Mitzi, Kristine, Jaden, Mai, Orange

Through discussions with Philippine healthcare workers, I am learning that medical missions are common in rural hospitals of the Philippines. One unique element to WSF, however, is their commitment to providing needed items and machines for hospitals to continue doing good work. “We have recycled many of our items. The donations mean we have the supplies to do our work. Your donations will help us save time.” These were the words of Judith, the head OR nurse. She described some of the timely procedures that would be quicker now with the donations from WSF.

Chief of Coron District Hospital, Dr. Edgar Flores

To truly understand the need for this adopted hospital in Coron, Chief of Hospital Dr. Flores explains in great detail. “We have been doing minor surgeries and orthopedics. Major surgical cases are referred to Manila and Culion.” These destinations require either a boat or plane, so many may not go. When there is a high tide and rough sea, people will not come to the hospital. WSF experienced this during the week when we were told that a boat of patients was delayed from another island due to a tropical storm. He goes on further to say, “People are hesitant to come here because we lack specialists.” Dr. Flores also emphasizes that the Coron economy will strengthen with this adopted hospital model because tourists will know “they are safe here” because there are people to help in times of energy. I hear Coron, Palawan, regularly referred to as “The Next Boracay” – and I now see that even with the help of WSF, it is all connected.

According to Dr. Flores, the population of Coron is 80% indigenous people (many who speak their own Palawan tribe dialect) and 20% other – these 20% are those that usually can afford to pay. Collaboration for this hospital has always involved a mix of strong local government support, NGOs, and even the local community members. He hopes that in the future patients can donate food as a fee for service to equip the hospital with food for admitted patients – a model he has seen in other provincial hospitals. As he said this to me, a patient comes in with 6 pizza pies as a thank you for the hospital’s service! Dr. Flores stresses that the needs are still increasing in the community, and the continuous support for medical services from collaborators will help the hospital to support the people.

There are only 3 doctors including Dr. Flores, 8 nurses, and 4 contractual nurses that work here. He closed by saying, “We don’t know how we do it, but as long as we love our work, we are ok!”

Coron District Hospital Staff and WSF Volunteers

Coron District Hospital Staff and WSF Volunteers

Posted in Philippines, Philippines 2013 | 3 Comments