My involvement with the Orthopedic Spine Trip to Colombia has been an incredibly rewarding experience and has enriched my life in countless ways. I have accompanied Dr. Mardjetko, Dr. Rinella, and Dr. Geck on 5 outreach trips and am eager to continue my involvement. It has been my great pleasure to provide the intraoperative spinal cord monitoring for the complex orthopedic procedures that are performed on this trip. I would like to share some of my experiences and provide a brief snapshot of the outreach program for potential volunteers.
I first learned about the Mission Trip to Colombia from one of my colleagues at Biotronic. Upon his return, he shared photos with me that were taken of the children they has assisted at clinic, the surgical team reviewing X-rays at the airport, the modern operating rooms with windows at the Valle del Lili Hospital and the final day of relaxation at Los Nubes, in the Andes mountains.
This year, the spine team from the United States included: Dr. Rinella-Chicago, IL, Dr. Geck-Austin, TX, Curtis Jackson-Medtronic, Ethan Lauer-NeuroTech, Laura Muncie-Biotronic, and the youngest member of the team to-date, Cristina Rinella.
The first day begins with breakfast in the cafeteria, which is open to the lush tropical landscape of Cali. The coffee is of course delicious. Then it is off to clinic, where it is a pleasure to work with the members of the Casa de Colombia staff. They are very organized and keep a steady stream of patients coming in throughout the day. When the children arrive with their families, they are usually wearing big smiles and are not afraid to give out hugs. It is apparent that a strong family bond is very important in their culture and the positive and fun loving nature of the children is truly heartwarming.
One learns so much from the watching the surgeons interact with the children and their families. Dr. Rinella, Dr. Geck, Dr. Uribe and Dr. Gonzalez are truly passionate about medicine and helping others. They take every opportunity to teach those around them and keep the entire group involved, both inside and outside of the operating room. It has been nice to discover what they look for on the x-rays, and MRIs, discuss and ask questions about the patient’s diagnosis and syndromes, enter in relevant information into the database, take photos of the children and make note of the surgical or follow up plans for each patient.
The OR staff, including the anesthesiologists, nurses, and of course our host surgeons are very welcoming at the Valle del Lili. We always feel at home while working in the OR, and the high level of patient care provided by the entire team makes these complex spinal procedures possible. The opportunity to introduce spinal cord monitoring to another country, where the technology is not routinely used, has been very gratifying. To be an integral part of the team of healthcare professionals involved in these surgeries, and to see first hand how this feedback can assist in positive patient outcomes, is to see the goal of all of my years of training and experience realized. It’s an indescribable feeling, to observe patients, who underwent procedures that were very risky, come walking or running into clinic 6 months later and state that they now play soccer and ride their bikes regularly.
The opportunity to be able to scrub in and participate in a surgery was a definite highlight for me. It was great to see the anatomy up close, assist with the suction, and even help to remove and place instrumentation. Every trip I learn something new from each member of the spine team; their ability to teach, leadership, excellent technique and patience inspire me to strive to be a better mentor within my own field.
Being able to accompany the surgeons on rounds was also a fun experience for me. I will never forget visiting one patient in the intensive care who had undergone a Cervical Decompression and Fusion surgery 1 day prior. She was in a halo and when asked if she was in any pain stated, “No. When can I go back to school?” Witnessing the personal strength of each individual child is an incredibly rewarding experience. Despite their young age, they appear to already know what it truly important in life and for most of us this takes a lifetime to recognize.
Typically one evening is reserved for presentations in the library of the hospital with the remainder of the evenings spent dining at local restaurants or at the mall across the street from the hospital. The accommodations are very nice. Our rooms are dorm style, each having their own bathroom. One room even has a refrigerator and enough wall space to project movies on at night. Our trip always ends with dinner at Magarita and Caco’s home in Cali. The company, conversation, and spectacular views of the city at night are always a treat. If you’re lucky, the group will end up at a local club for some salsa dancing. Thank you to Juan, Mario, Margarita and Caco for being such gracious hosts! Hope to see you in 6 months!