The Children’s Spine Foundation has expanded its assistance of children in desperate need of spinal care beyond our national boundaries by helping to fund a medical missionary trip to the Dominican Republic in September, 2005. For those whose geographical knowledge is as poor as mine, the Dominican Republic is … Hispaniola, comprised of Haiti and the Dominica Republic, 960 kilometers southeast of Florida and about half the distance between North America and South America. Roughly two-thirds of the island is occupied by the Dominican Republic. The remaining third is Haitian in origin. The team’s efforts were centered in the city of Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic was discovered by Christopher Columbus. Its history is rife with conflicts with the Spanish, French, and neighboring Haiti as well as internal strife. However, in spite of the turbulent nature of its past, this island boasts a richly varied and lively culture. The Dominican people are Spanish-speaking and their sense of hospitality and friendliness to visitors is instinctual, made all the more remarkable because this is the quintessential third-world nation, lacking in transportation, public utilities, and, most alarming, the medical care taken for granted by the populations of industrialized nations.
Medical care is quite expensive in this region and the best care is only available to wealthy individuals. A patient in need of medical care who does not have adequate financial resources is virtually unable to obtain appropriate surgical assistance and the expensive instrumentation or implantations which may be necessary. Sadly, this disparity is quickly evident on tours of the country’s public hospitals, where rows and rows of children and young adults have been placed in long-term traction for fractures and injuries that could easily be remedied with the immediate surgical implantation which is completely unaffordable for this group of individuals. Nowhere is this situation more alarming than when it concerns the care of children.
Cure International, a nonprofit organization, has established a hospital in Santo Domingo for the sole purpose of treating deformities in children. Scott Nelson, a recent graduate of Loma Linda and a good friend who worked with me at Riverside County Regional Medical Center, has dedicated five years of his life to missionary work as the Medical Director of this facility. He soon made it quite evident to me that the number of children with deformities is nearly epidemic, not only in the Dominican Republic but on the island itself, and spine-trained surgeons are not available to meet their needs. These children have severe deformities which alter their ability to function, let alone ambulate, and their plight became a cause for the Children’s Spine Foundation.
With the appropriate funding we were able to establish a team of physicians, including me as well as Dr. Nelson, a cell-saver technician, a resident, and instrumentation and other techs to undertake a one-week trip to Santo Domingo. We were treated with the utmost hospitality and soon saw for ourselves the great need for our services when we met the children and hospital staff. Over the ensuing week we provided medical and surgical services to approximately fifteen children who suffered from severe deformities. The donation of time and materials, including instrumentation, as well as funding by the Children’s Spine Foundation made this trip possible. Certain modifications of technique and instrumentation were required in order to provide optimal care with limited resources so that we could serve as many children as possible. The hours were long: we worked a minimum of twelve hours per day. However, we were also able to provide lectures and instruction to the existing medical residents of Santo Domingo to impart some of our knowledge of this type of care.
The rewards of treating children with severe spinal deformities, some with 80-90 degree curvatures of the spine, were great and we left the country with a burden for the significant numbers still in need of treatment. It is my hope and wish that in the future through the joint efforts of the residents I supervised and those of multiple volunteer workers in ancillary services we can repeat this endeavor again in this needy region.
For a visual insight into the CSF-funded team, please refer to the short video segment link at the bottom of the page, which chronicles some of our experiences. As a participant in this team effort, I would like to thank all the individuals who have donated to this foundation, making this trip, and, hopefully future trips possible.