2014 is off to a running start as Floating Doctors and Mending Kids International (MKI) partner to bring Orthopedic Surgery to patients from across rural Panama! MKI is an American based charity that works to provide life changing surgeries for children around the world. From February 24th to the 28th MKI will be conducting an Orthopedic Surgery clinic in David, Panama at the Hospital Obaldia. Floating Doctors is helping connect the communities we serve with surgery.
It is difficult to deliver surgical care to kids in the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca. Families speak either Ngäbere or Buglére, do not speak English, and generally speak Spanish as a second language. Making doctor-patient communication understandably hard. Communities are isolated from one another by jungles, rivers and the sea; and a huge cultural gap separates potential patients from Panamanian surgeons and definitely from surgeons from the US or other more developed nations. When medical problems arise it is difficult to find definitive medical care. Most hospitals and clinics in the region are not equipped for orthopedic surgery and rural populations do not know what resources are available to them. Even when kids who need Orthopedic Surgery can finally have it done, the lack of local physical therapy and follow-up leaves many patients worse-off after the surgery.
Over the last few weeks, an amazing team of Floating Doctors volunteers has been working hard to overcome endless challenges to connect isolated children in need of advanced care with Mending Kids International. Since arriving nearly three years ago, we have treated thousands of patients in the Comarca and Western Panama, made friends and contacts across dozens of communities and kept a list of patients needing Orthopedic Surgery. This includes, but is not limited to, coordinating with: the local Peace Corps volunteers, the Panamanian Ministry of Health, Hospital Obaldia and all of their physicians, plus the tireless efforts of Mending Kids International.
For weeks we have been working our contacts hard as our volunteers search the region for children requiring Orthopedic Surgery. For many, this could be the chance of a lifetime to finally fix the problem, and we don’t want to miss a single child. We have called over one hundred community contacts and leaders, searched through medical files, and even gone to visit communities in search of candidates for surgery.
Our volunteers are a special group that can speak Spanish (and some Ngäbere and Buglére) with families and community leaders, spend hours in the blazing sun searching for patients, navigate uncharted reefs to reach isolated communities and every day return home with new friends and contacts across the area. Last week when we realized we did not have reliable phone contacts for all of the communities we visit, teams went to scout villages in search of patients. In Shark Hole, we arrived in time to address a crowd of 200 gathered to meet government representatives while in other communities volunteers made new friends who helped them go door-to-door talking to families and finding potential patients.
As the effort to find patients grew, we created a hotline families could call to find out more information and identify new patients. Even local radio stations have joined in the effort, donating advertisement time for public service announcements about the clinic and distributing our hotline number.
As new patients are found, we work with the families to prepare them for surgery. Patients must be transported to the hospital for x-rays and the process must be explained to both patients and parents. Our medical team assesses each patient, takes photos and sends x-rays and briefs to MKI surgeons. Then the logistics of transporting 20+ patients and their parents to David must be organized. Caregivers have to be found for the other children at home and families need to be connected with financial support to allow parents to take time off work.
Next week, a fleet of small pangas will collect patients with their parents and bring them to Bocas del Toro. From here we will travel together by bus to David where housing and food will be provided for patients and parents as they wait for and recover from surgery.
Everyone here at Floating Doctors is excited to be working with Mending Kids International to deliver life changing surgeries to our pediatric patients. Also, a special thanks goes out to both of the Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons whom are volunteering their time: Dr. Robert Bernstein and Dr. Laplaza. Without the help of MKI, our patients could not receive surgery and without Floating Doctors, most patients would not be able to get to the clinic or even know it was occurring. It has been a great partnership allowing both NGO’s to focus on our strengths; MKI will bring world class surgical care to Panama and Floating Doctors will continue to connect with patients and their communities.
We’re excited for next week; many of the patients scheduled for surgery have been in and out of our clinics for years, as volunteers have wished for surgical skills and equipment. We can’t wait to see these kids after surgery and back in their communities!
Until we have more results to share, Fair Winds!