Revolutionizing Spine Care…Changing Lives

Uganda Spine Surgery Mission 2016 Team One: Day 3

Quote of the Day: “That’s a bit cheeky”.

This is our favorite new phrase, bequeathed upon us today by our resident South African, Michelle. According to her instruction, ‘cheeky’ is to be used when describing an abhorrent or otherwise off-color act by another individual.

It’s day 3, and Team One has reached full swing. The jet lag has started to wear off, and the morning runs have begun. Dr. Hisey brought his Texas Back Institute flag with him to breakfast, and we knew he was ready to rock.

The operative cases started with an odontoid screw for a young man who fell off a boda boda, fracturing a portion of one of his upper cervical vertebrae and leaving him in pain and unstable. Although we didn’t have all of the equipment needed for an odontoid screw, everyone came together and made it work. Thus began the theme of the day for me, which was a lesson about resourcefulness, ingenuity and persistence.


Not having the proper cervical traction equipment, instead we used good old- fashioned elbow grease to get the bone fragments to line up while Dr. Hisey put in the screws.


Here I am performing an old-school “reduction maneuver” while Dr. Hisey puts in some odontoid screws.

Our next patient was a young lady with malalignment of two of the vertebrae in her lower back, causing nerve compression and pain in her lower back and legs. We decompressed the nerves in that area and instrumented the two misaligned vertebrae back into proper position.


Michelle and Dr. Hisey saw several adorable pediatric scoliosis patients in clinic today. It’s tough to see such a debilitating and deforming disease impact those so young, and we’re all hoping we can do something to help them. At the moment, the least we could do was hand out lots of dum-dums lollipops, which at least brought a smile to their faces. In fact, we began to make a habit of handing out dumdums to just about everyone we saw in or out of clinic.


This is Lucky, a really cute kid with scoliosis and bilateral club feet, whom we plan to help with surgery in the coming few weeks.

An exciting development today: we finally acquired a “dongle” with the help of our Ugandan friend and colleague Stanley. We had to borrow a few shillings from the lovely staff at Mbarara University Hospital (which we will, of course, repay), but after a few meetings between Dr. Hisey and the dongle dealer, we finally have a wifi hotspot. We are still working on setting it up, but are all excited at the prospect of getting email and text messages at the hospital.


A patient of ours with a cervical fracture in the emergency room was in need of cervical traction. Again, we didn’t have the ideal equipment for this, but scrounged around and found enough spare parts to put something together. At the end of the day, we visited him in the emergency room and put together a traction system for him.


Here we are putting our cervical fracture patient in traction.

According to a 2014 census, some 14% of Ugandans practice Islam, and today was Eid al-Fitr, or “breaking of the fast”, an Islamic holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan (the Islamic holy month of fasting). The date for the holiday differs annually depending on when a new moon is cited and the beginning of the month of Shawwal begins in any given region. For Uganda, that day was today. We initially had plans to go to a restaurant for dinner, but instead wished our driver a happy holiday and sent him home for the evening.

After devouring 3 or more whole fried tilapia from the hotel restaurant (which has become our standard fare for dinner as of late), we finally made it to bed, ready for another busy day Thursday.


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