I was lucky enough to receive the opportunity to go to Accra, Ghana in November with FOCOS. This was a special trip and has made me grow as a clinician as well as a person. I was there for 2 weeks, the first week was joint week and the second was spine week.
Upon arrival everyone immediately becomes family. You live in the same house, eat all your meals together, travel to and from work together and spend all day at the hospital together. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I met many amazing people from all different backgrounds and walks of life that made up the team.
During the first week it was pretty laid back. Just one spine case per day and another room that did two or three total joints. On average we were home around eight o’clock every evening. Things were challenging but low key. The second week was a huge eye opener. We had 3 rooms of spine with sometimes multiple cases in each room. Most days we didn’t get back to the guest house until midnight and then still had to eat dinner and discuss cases for the following day. We survived on 4-5 hrs of sleep a night. Thankfully Mundana joined me to help cover all the cases. Still with her help I monitored in 2 rooms at the same time. Not ideal but in Ghana you optimize your resources and provide the best care you can. I busted out the old EP16 and Armada computer. it was a little rough but just like riding a bike; I was fine.
The patients were amazing! They brought 7 children from Ethiopia and 8 children from Sierra Leone. Each group came with 3 caregivers to help care for them after surgery. They live in a hostel on the property of the Korle-Bu Hospital for 2 months. These children all come from the poorest backgrounds any of us have ever witnessed in person. Many of them have no parents and live in orphanages. With the help of FOCOS these children were granted a new beginning. They are so happy for their surgery. The little children from Ethiopia were jealous that the kids from Sierra Leone got to have surgery before them. They would wait patiently in the halls of the OR for their surgery sometimes just to find out after 8 hrs of waiting they were going to have to wait until the next day for their surgery. They were always very well behaved and waited patiently for their turn.
The severity of spinal deformities seen in Ghana are very rarely seen here in the United States. They have well of 100 degree curves that are rotated and twisted. Out of the 19 cases that I monitored, 50% of them had changes,luckily one 1 patient woke up with a deficit.
Their hospital is very primitive. The hallways and patient rooms are not air-conditioned and have windows that are open to the outside. FOCOS brings in all of their own supplies and instruments. The patients pay only what they can afford for their surgery which for most of them is nothing. Everything is through donation including the instruments and implants. There are times that the optimal screw lengths weren’t available. The surgeons didn’t mind, they made do with what they had available and moved on smoothly.
We spent Thanksgiving there which was very special and will never be forgotten. That day we got done earlier than usual so we had very special Thanksgiving meal prepared for us. We all realized that we have many things to be thankful for and the things we take for granted.
At the close of the week I was a little sad for it to be over but a little anxious to be headed home. I learned a lot in Ghana and had the opportunity to do many things that we don’t get to do here. I am grateful for this opportunity and urge anyone that has a desire to go, please do! Your life will never be the same.