Anesthesiology department's Rwanda trip aids patients

by Danielle Beebe, UNMC Department of Anesthesiology | June 13, 2018

Image with caption: Local Gitwe staff with Medical Missions For Children team members from Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska and Utah.

Local Gitwe staff with Medical Missions For Children team members from Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska and Utah.

Ten UNMC Department of Anesthesiology physicians, CRNAs and educators recently returned from Gitwe, Rwanda, where the team assisted in performing 33 goiter removal surgeries on Rwandan patients who have limited access to specialized surgical care.

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A patient story

Ntirandeka Saaock, a Gitwe patient who had his thyroid removed in 2017, returned to the medical facility to share with volunteers the joys of his life without a thyroid goiter. Saaock, an incredible singer,
could barely sing with his thyroid issues. Since his procedure, he's spent the past year "singing and singing all day long."

The team departed May 10 and returned May 20 after four days of travel, one day of preparation and five days of surgery. It was the department's third surgical trip to Rwanda.

See photos from the trip

They focused on excision of large goiters, caused primarily by a lack of dietary iodine. The goiters can range from golf ball to softball size and carry a negative social stigma amongst health issues.

Second to providing needed care to an underserved population, the trip provides diverse medical and cultural education to UNMC faculty, staff and residents.

"It's a really good experience for the residents because they get to practice medicine in a resource-limited environment," said Megan Chacon, M.D., director of global health for the department. "In the U.S. we have everything at our fingertips, but in Rwanda you're dealing with limited monitors, limited electricity and no ventilators. There's a different thought process to our anesthetic techniques because of the limited resources."

For example, Dr. Chacon noted the operating rooms had windows in which you could look out to the surrounding village while performing surgery. If it looked like a storm was about to roll in, the team would postpone a surgery due to concern of losing power, and therefore losing important equipment such as suction and electrocautery.

To perform these surgeries, the department teamed up with Medical Missions For Children (MMFC), a non-profit group created more than 25 years ago to build sustainable health care, education and social services infrastructure in underserved areas in the world. The 10 UNMC anesthesiology employees were joined by nine other MMFC physician and nurse volunteers from Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah.

The department's relationship with MMFC began in 2016 with the arrival of executive vice chair Andrew Patterson, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Patterson, who had a relationship with MMFC and the medical community in Gitwe spanning the previous decade, worked with Dr. Chacon to establish a global outreach program in UNMC's Department of Anesthesiology dedicated to clinical care, education and research.

The department has made five trips to Rwanda, two of which were educational and three surgical. Additionally, department chair Steven Lisco, M.D., and Dr. Patterson assisted in establishing a microbiology lab in Gitwe.

The 19-person team performed 33 surgeries in five days. More than 80 potential patients were screened. Procedures included right and left thyroid lobectomies, hemithyroidectomies, an excision of the right submandibular gland, and a left superficial parotid excision.


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Kris Morrissey
June 13, 2018 at 9:24 AM

What a tremendous blessing to these patients. Well done.

Dan McQuade
June 13, 2018 at 7:41 AM

This is what we do.......and it shows CLASS. Dan