Revolutionizing Spine Care…Changing Lives

Ethiopia Mission Trip 2016 – Days 1&2


For those of you who weren’t a part of the experience last year, I am Dr. Belanger’s daughter Lauren. This is my second year joining the team in Ethiopia. It has been an exhausting trip already and we just arrived into Addis yesterday. We had a layover in Dubai as we did last year,  but what we didn’t know this time was Dubai was basically the calm before the storm. When we hit security in Addis we had tons of complications with getting all of our bags through customs. Ted and I made it through without a blink, the rest of the crew, Jason, Walt, Toni, and Lucy all got stopped. They kept some of our bags overnight, and we had to go back and get them today. We also had to bring them a letter from the hospital stating they have preapproved the acceptance of our donation, which in this case is the medical equipment.

We saw 40-50 patients yesterday in clinic. It took us until about 8:30 p.m. but we saw all of the patients from last year and all of the patients for this year. We even had to ask some of the staff to come back after they had already gone home in order to help get everyone situated. Since most of the patients do not speak English we needed help with translation among other things. It was truly amazing to see how well last year’s patients are doing, and how much they have grown in just one short year. We even had a few patients from previous years come in for checkups and they are still doing great four to five years after surgery.

After clinic and unpacking all of our equipment we went back to the hotel, ate dinner, and went to bed because we were all exhausted. We were fully prepared to wake up early and start all over again. Little did we know we wouldn’t start surgery until around ten thirty the next morning due to major roadblocks from the hospital staff in charge. This morning when we arrived at the hospital (day 2), we were expecting our patient to be upstairs, prepped for surgery and ready for us to take him back but this was not the case. The hospital requested Dr. Belanger’s original medical license, which is framed in his office in the United States. We brought copies of all of his certifications and license from home but they wanted the original copies so they could see them and write on them. This would make his original medical license useless in the states if it were to be defaced or changed in any way.

So, we did a lot of standing around this morning, just waiting for the approval from the hospital for us to take our patient back for surgery.

One thing the team and I love about coming back to the same hospital every year is we build such strong connections with the staff. We had plenty of people helping us out this morning when we were having difficulties. Yesterday when we arrived at the hospital all of the people who we have built bonds with, or professional relationships with were so welcoming and inviting giving us hugs and handshakes, left and right. Even with all of the complications, coming back to MCM has been such an inviting, loving experience. After getting everything sorted out, we took the patient back, started anesthesia and went on our way.

Today’s patient is named Eyol, he is seventeen years old and has severe scoliosis. Dr. Belanger performed a T4-L2 posterior spinal fusion on him. The Ethiopian news crews even came in half way through the surgery to film. We finished up the case and he is doing great! His legs are moving and he is in recovery now.

It is usually a little slower for the non-surgical crew members the first few days in Ethiopia due to the lack of post-surgical patients but we have found plenty to do. This year we brought pill bottles and stickers with all of our patient’s information, we had to break all of the medicine in half and count it out to put into the pill bottles, then label and organize them into bags with stool softeners. It is essential for the patients to have stool softener because they always have issues using the bathroom after surgery. We also brought candy and gum which helps their GI track. Last time we were here they were doing some construction and we today toured the new part of the hospital. We even got to use the new OR. It is very clean, and up to date. There is still no air conditioning, but it is a much larger workspace, and they put in new sliding doors.

Last year we had a patient we did surgery on that was completely paralyzed from the waist down.  Her name is Etamarym. She came in with no movement or sensation in her legs. After surgery she had sensation but still no mobility and we were not sure she would regain movement. Today she came in WALKING! It was a miracle, truly unbelievable. She had lost weight; she was walking on her own, and SO grateful. It was the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. I am so thankful to be able to be a part of that miracle.

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