Haiti Through The Eyes Of A Young Surgeon

Philip McClure recently graduated from the Orthopedic Surgery Residency at Brown University in Rhode Island and will soon be entering a Pediatric Orthopedic Fellowship at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas.  Phil has volunteered at Hopital Adventiste d’Haiti on two separate occasions and I am quite certain that they will not have been his last trips.  Phillip is bright, articulate, contemplative and a gifted surgeon, we look forward to his return to HAH. 

From L to R: Scott Nelson, Phillip McClure and Francel Alexis

Pediatric Orthopedists have a unique opportunity to serve in areas of the developing world where severe deformity remains disproportionately prevalent, resulting in disability and human suffering.  A carefully planned and executed procedure can resolve deformity and improve a patient’s function for decades, without the need for expensive prosthetics or ambulatory aids.   My first trip to Haiti took several months of planning as I worked to make contacts with Dr. Scott Nelson at Loma Linda and Dr. Francel Alexis at the Adventist Hospital in Port Au Prince. Needless to say, it was well worth the effort.

Phil making rounds with Scott Nelson

A popular theme in Haitian art after the earthquake in January of 2010 is to mirror the images of the national palace before and after the earthquake.  The collapse of such a magnificent building has been a powerful image of the suffering in Haiti.  Many dedicated orthopedic volunteers spent time helping to treat the traumatic injuries suffered in the catastrophe.  As the acute injuries stabilized and other needs arose around the world, the plight of the Haitian people slowly faded from the public eye.  Fortunately for many patients in Port Au Prince, a group of orthopedists lead by Scott Nelson continues to provide orthopedic care at the Adventist Hospital in conjunction with Dr. Francel Alexis, a local orthopedic surgeion.  The well established relationship there allows for advanced orthopedic care despite a struggling health system in the country.

Reviewing digital xrays with the team

When I entered the field of orthopedics, my previous training in physics left me yearning for a chance to apply the field of mechanics to patient care.  The parallels between reconstructing a complex deformity and the continued reconstruction efforts in Haiti are easy to draw.  Both require careful assessment, planning and execution.  Successful execution generates a durable improvement in quality of life in both cases.   Slowly, by righting one structure at a time, a staggering transformation comes to reality.  In my three weeks in Haiti, I was fortunate to assist in the care of nearly three dozen surgical patients; each a unique challenge.  To be integrated into the surgical team there was the greatest privilege of my young career.  My experience assisting in the care of Haitian children has been one of the most formative of my life.  I hope to have the privilege to continue to work in that capacity for many years to come.  It is our unique opportunity as orthopedists to help relieve human suffering due to musculoskeletal disease. May we seize the chance utilize and teach our advanced techniques in the places that need them most so the people of the developing world can maximize their own potential as they build their societies.

Dr Phil adjusting a fixator with JJ and Elaine Lewis looking on

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