March 2012 Thyroid Mission to Gitwe, Rwanda

April 10, 2012

Administrator Aditya Mahalingam-Dhingra traveled with his father, MMFC Team Leader and Surgeon Dr. Jag Dhingra to Rwanda last month where the volunteer team perfomed 26 successful thyroidectomies. These are some of his observations.

The MMFC Team arrived in Kigali Friday night – and I was most surprised by the fact that we were literally bringing everything with us – equipment, supplies, instruments, and medications. We arrived with over a dozen oversized duffel bags and at least a half dozen large boxes and hard covered pelican carrying cases.

On Saturday we packed everything into a large van that resolutely bounced us along the road from Kigali to Gitwe – an arduous drive that took 3 hours.  We arrived to find an operating room that was empty save for a large overhead lamp. We quickly filled the room with the duffels,  boxes, and arrays of disassembled devices. The low chatter of our team accompanied the hours of unpacking, sorting, assembline, and testing. By the end of the day, when we retired early and exhausted, we had a functioning OR and PACU, a table full of neatly arranged medications, and a list of patients — culled from the dozen or more who had been waiting in the hospital’s halls all day to be screened by our surgeons — who would be operated on the next day.

The sudden apparition of our functioning little three-room base of operations, like a foreign organ transplanted onto the first floor of Gitwe’s welcoming rural hospital, was a wonder to me. Most amazing of all, even more so than when, two days into our mission, I was able to get the printer to spit out in navy blue ink (the black cartridge was empty) my own halting French translation of our medical team’s post-op care instructions, was how quickly and efficiently a routine was established. The team woke, breakfasted, and deployed to their rooms, patients cycled through, and by the end of the day new patients had been screened and the next day’s OR schedule was ready for printing. Four days into the mission the MMFC team had successfully finished twenty-six cases.

I now have an even greater appreciation for the humanitarian work my father and his MMFC colleagues do. It is a monumental undertaking that starts with deciding what supplies and equipment need to be taken to the work site, packing, carrying everything with us, unpacking, setting up, performing the surgeries, packing up, and carrying everything home. Everyone on this mission needed to help out wherever and whenever needed – and everyone did. I am grateful for this opportunity to meet and work with such dedicated and skilled professionals.

Finally, I want to share what a poignent and special moment it was when the team gathered around the tree that was planted last year in March 2011 in memory of an MMFC colleague and volunteer  surgeon, Greg Feldman. I never met Greg but he clearly had a tremendous impact on the hospital, the village of Gitwe, and each and every MMFC volunteer who had worked with him in March 2010.  The missions to Gitwe will now be officially known as the Greg Feldman, MD Memorial Surgical Missions to Rwanda.  For more information on the fund set up by Greg’s family in his honor, please visit the MMFC website.

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