Revolutionizing Spine Care…Changing Lives

Ethiopia Spine Surgery Mission Trip 2014 – Update

An Update to the Dr. Ted Belanger’s Ethiopia Spine Surgery Mission Trip

Written by Toni Belanger

Well, the internet has been completely out for a few days, so unfortunately, after several very busy days have passed, we have been unable to blog despite being able to find the time.
Short summary to date:  Dr. Ted, as he is called here, and the team have now done 10 cases. These were all scoliosis and kyphosis cases, with curves ranging from 60 to over 100 degrees.  Some were all pedicle screw surgeries, and some also had rib resections as part of the surgery.  He said this was for improving the rib hump further, and sometimes to make the spine more flexible if it was a severe curve.
I have been blown away by how sweet and nice all of the patients and their families are.  They are so grateful for the care, and I have bonded with most of them.  They react to the drastic change in their appearance with a big smile and sometimes tears of joy when I show them their before and after pics.  One patient, is a 15 year old little girl that had a T5-L2 fusion with a thoracoplasty for scoliosis.  Her sister spoke fairly good English and she has adopted me as her sister from America.  We have become Facebook friends, she gave me a gift of some beautiful trinkets and she wrote me a thank you note that brought me to tears.  It was worth all of the sacrifice just for the one new friend..
Another patient, is a 13 year old girl who travelled 700 miles for her surgery.  She had severe scoliosis (greater than 90 degrees) with extremely uneven shoulders.  After the surgery, she was singing and dancing in her room and would light up a big smile whenever we came to see her.  She thought the scoliosis made her ugly and she would never be married or have a family, and now she looks beautiful.  Her mother cried when she saw her back with the dressing removed.  She is staying at Dr. Rick Hodes’ house after leaving the hospital for a few weeks because it is a 700 mile bus ride and a 1 hour walk to get home.
Ted gave a grand rounds talk to all of the Ethiopian and volunteer doctors here yesterday morning.  The subject was adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and it was cool because he used the patients from this trip as examples, which made it more real for the audience, many of whom had helped care for the patients in some way.
We have had a rotation of volunteers, with Dr. Meyers from Colorado leaving early last week, followed by Walt from Medtronic on Tuesday and DeAnn from Medical Center of Plano on Wednesday, Jonathan from Medtronic arrived Thursday, and Dr. Phil and his Orlando distributor, Ryan, arrived today.  There are 6 more cases booked for the next week, including removal of a huge ABC (aneurysmal bone cyst) from the back of the neck in a 7 year old, followed by more osteotomies, vertebral column resections and scoliosis.  Lots of pics to show!
AMESEGENALEHU (thank you!)
So today is mine and Ted’s 9 year wedding anniversary and the people of the Korean hospital here got wind of it and one of the Korean volunteer Physicians drew us a portrait of the hospital with Ted & I in front of it. It read “Dr. Ted & Toni Happy 9th Anniversary at the Myungsung Christian Medical Center Addis Ababa Ethiopia May 27th, 2014”. I cried it was so sweet!! Another one of the Ethiopian resident volunteers got us a card. Then they arranged for us to have a dinner celebration this evening. These are the nicest people you will ever meet.
Yesterday, Dr. Ted Belanger did surgery on a 7 year old boy. He has a large tumor on his cervical spine. I was with the little boy in the pre-op holding (hall way) while they were getting the room ready so he wouldn’t be so scared. He is the cutest thing! As we wheeled him into the Operating Room I was holding his hand to try and calm him. He didn’t cry, he was so brave. I just kept talking to him. When it was time for him to go to sleep the anesthesiologist put the medicine in his hand and he started crying… I just lost it. It broke my heart to see such a tiny little boy in pain and I couldn’t do anything about it. I just kept comforting him until he was asleep while tears were running down my face.   He is doing great today. The tumor is completely gone and his post op x-rays look great. He should be up and playing in no time! 
We have a patient, who had a T11 & 12 VCR & T4-L4 PSF  (had 90′ scoliosis & 90′ kyphosis). She had to go to the ICU afterwards because of the blood loss. She is doing great now. Up walking the halls, straight and beautiful. She lives 450 miles away and has no parents. She has a guy here who says he is her brother just so he can stay at the hospital and take care of her but he is just a friend. We are trying to get her set up with a local orphanage so she will have somewhere to go when she is released and they can take care of her.
Everyone helps everyone here.  This is such a heartfelt place. One of the senior residents made me cry today because I told him I was leaving on Friday. He said that god had blessed my heart and that all the nurses and staff loved me and thought that I took great care of all the patients there and that they can’t wait for me to return next year! I will definitely go back.
Until next time….
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