20 total joint replacements in 3 days: How a pair of hurricanes wasn't enough to stop a One World Surgery Mission from serving Honduran patients in need

Hundreds of physicians and medical care providers embark on Medical Mission trips to care for underserved populations across the globe each year. However, few trips have been as ambitious and logistically-challenging as the recent mission 20 healthcare professionals affiliated with One World Surgery embarked on, timed just between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

One World Surgery, in partnership with Surgical Care Affiliates, typically sends teams of around 60 to 70 people to Holy Family Surgery Center in Honduras, a nonprofit surgery center that opened in 2009 to provide free care for the local community. However, a trip scheduled for Sept. 2 to 8 was different; the trip included just 22 medical professionals with the goal of performing 20 total joint replacements over four days.

This special trip was spearheaded by Tyler Goldberg, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Austin-based Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates; Tom McCoy, MD, of Charlotte, N.C.-based OrthoCarolina also jumped onboard. Both surgeons opted to bring their surgical staffs to ensure safe and efficient procedures would be carried out at the Honduras facility.

"Coordination is key when performing a short-term mission trip," said Dr. Goldberg. "Preparation began months in advance to organize the team, select patients and finally prepare instruments and implants to ensure surgical success. No one person can do this alone. The SCA and One World Surgery teams were vital to this process."

Medacta donated the 20 joint implants for the Mission, specially fit to each patient's specifications, through the Medacta for Life Foundation.

"The Medacta for Life Foundation is proud to support One World Surgery’s mission by providing the tools to help deserving patients in disadvantaged countries," said Francesco Siccardi, executive vice president of Medacta International "It is extremely gratifying to know that our donation enabled 20 total joint patients to regain mobility thanks to the capable hands of our surgeon volunteers in Honduras. Our GMK Efficiency line of pre-sterilized and single-use surgical orthopedic instruments is ideal for use in hospitals with limited resources and allows us to participate in these meaningful causes."

The team booked flights through Houston well in advance. However, when Hurricane Harvey hit, their initial flight would have been impossible; instead, they re-routed through Miami, catching the only other flight to Honduras. Then, one day into the trip, they awoke to texts from friends and family asking them to return home before another hurricane, Irma, hit.

The team decided to condense surgical days from four to three so they could accommodate all 20 joint replacements. "We did not want to leave without helping as many as possible so we worked hard and accomplished all the surgery in just three short days," said Dr. Goldberg. "The patients in Honduras are so thankful for the care we provided. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to care for people just for the simple reason of helping someone. In today's mechanistic, business climate in U.S. healthcare, it is refreshing to be able to use our skills to benefit someone in need."

He continued, "The most rewarding aspect of the trip comes in two separate baskets: first, the patient care delivered was exceptional and the patients were so grateful that all of the struggles to get there made everything worthwhile. Second, their ability to assemble a group in a very short period of time and have each member work tirelessly contributing to the overall good was amazing," said Dr. Goldberg. "We had members on the team from all over the U.S. with varying backgrounds and skills. Each member worked so hard and cheerfully. I was grateful to be associated with such a unified team."

One of the patients was a familiar face; a volunteer interpreter for the Mission had once worked for non-governmental organizations that went into villages, but quit due to knee pain. During this trip, she received a knee replacement to relieve her pain and become more functional.

Surgery at the Honduras center is similar to procedures in the U.S., following the same protocols, and the implants were templated specifically for each patient. "We had brought specific sizes of implants, and when we swapped out patients we had to figure out how to make it work," said. Felisha Faulkner, director of strategy and business development at SCA. "We wanted to use all the implants because they were donated and can provide a huge quality of life improvement for our patients."

The team ultimately performed 15 total knee replacements and five total hip replacements. "The team was very well orchestrated and we were able to turn over the rooms quickly," Faulkner said.

Adding to the unusual momentum of this Mission week, the team was also greeted with a surprise patient. A pregnant woman traveling to the public hospital in the city to deliver her had realized she couldn't make it. Instead, she knocked on the gate of the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos ranch where Holy Family Surgery Center is located. The physicians were able to help her deliver her baby at the steps of the center!

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