In less than a week, a team of local physicians and other medical professionals from the U.S. will arrive in Guatemala with the goal of changing lives and performing 76 knee-replacement surgeries.
The medical service trip is being sponsored by Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach, or WOGO for short. Mount Airy surgeon Dr. Robyn Hakanson is one of the six founding surgeons of the organization, which is linked with a non-profit volunteer medical service organization called Operation Walk. The organization provides free treatment to patients in developing countries.
A relatively new non-profit, WOGO sponsored its first trip last fall. A team of 57 people travelled to Katmandu, Nepal, and replaced 44 knees in a little more than a week. This year a team of 65 people is traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, for a week with plans to replace 70 or more knees while they are there.
“We are going to do as many of these as we can,” Hakanson said.
Hakanson, who practices at North State Bone and Joint Center in Mount Airy, will be taking several local medical professionals along with her on the trip. Local participants are James Derrick, Dr. Robby Dukes, Dr. Jan Kriska, Kristy Nixon, Dr. Ilka Nowak and Casey Vedder.
Vedder, a physical therapist and president of Choice Physical Therapy and Wellness, participated in the Nepal mission trip last year. He remarked via e-mail: “I decided to go on that trip and the one to Guatemala because it is an opportunity to assist in giving people their freedom and lives back who otherwise would not have that opportunity.”
He continued, “We are very fortunate in the U.S. that even our poor generally have access to great medical care. The women of Nepal, Guatemala, and other poor countries don’t have this same opportunity. Many of them struggle to be able to perform even the simplest of daily tasks including walking. Mission trips of this kind are the only option they have.”
Kriska, who specializes in internal medicine, also participated in last year’s trip. He remarked, “I definitely think it was an eye opener for me. I thought I knew something about poverty (until I traveled there). It was a learning experience for me.”
Kriska said he realized last year that there is more he can do to help people, so he decided to join the trip again this year to lend his services as an internist.
“These people in these developing countries, they need serious care … I was quite humbled by the amount of work to be done,” Kriska remarked.
Hakanson noted that working conditions will be better in Guatemala than they were in Nepal, though it is still not the state of the art facilities that people in the United States are used to. She and a few other team members traveled to Guatemala in March for a pre-trip. This week, the doctors will travel to a hospital in Antigua that is run by Franciscans who take in members of society who are discarded after they are born with disabilities. Hakanson said there are 400 permanent residents at the hospital.
In both impoverished countries, knee replacements are something only the wealthiest can pursue. In Nepal, WOGO’s patients were unfamiliar with the procedure and wary of the operation. But several medical teams have traveled to Guatemala in the past, so the residents there are familiar with knee replacement surgeries and wait for their turn to come. Next week four WOGO surgeons will operate for four days, then doctors and therapists will oversee patients during a three-day recovery period.
For the surgeries, the WOGO team has to ship all of its own equipment to the hospital. Last year their shipping bill to Nepal was around $35,000. But the hospital in Guatemala does have air conditioning and modern autoclaves, which will prove a big help to the surgeons. Hakanson said the hospital runs entirely on donations.
“It will still be a challenge,” Hakanson said of the process.
The WOGO team has the goal to empower, educate and engage. While the surgeries alone empower patients, the WOGO team does more while they are overseas. The team also will be training a few Guatemalan physical therapists and students in proper physical therapy after total knee replacements and other procedures, Vedder explained. He also will be working with patients and families in how to progress after the surgeons leave.
He said, “It is a great way to pass on our knowledge to others who may not have the same educational access. I believe that educating the women of many of our poorest countries is the best way to promote a better and safer world for all of us into the future.”
Kriska said he hopes the team can instill inspiration into the people and doctors there. He said, “You can plant a seed hopefully that grows.”
Last year WOGO connected with a girls school in Nepal and provided them with soccer balls and jerseys while they were there. This year, the team also is connecting with a school in Guatemala. While there on a pre-trip, Hakanson and a few other team members visited the school. They found that the school had some donated computers but no Internet service and no teacher who knew how to teach the students how to use the equipment. WOGO is able to provide the school with some Web cams donated by CISCO and 20 donated laptops. The school is setting up Internet, and the WOGO surgeons, out of their own pockets, are paying for the school to have a technology teacher for a year so they can learn how to use the equipment.
Now the Guatemalan students plan to video chat with students at Millennium Charter Academy. Hakanson said, “We’re hoping it will be a long lasting relationship.”
Pam Braley, dean of academics at Millennium Charter, said the sixth-grade classes are studying Latin American history and that the school thought it would be a good fit. She said the school plans for students to Skype, or video chat, with the Guatemalan students next Friday if possible.
“Hopefully that will be the beginning of an ongoing relationship,” remarked Braley.
She said the local students also are sending letters to the students in Guatemala.
The WOGO team also is bringing some people to fix up the school’s athletic facilities. Hakanson said the school is not attended by rich girls, and most have never used the Internet before. Hakanson said, “We’re hoping we can change their lives, too.”
She said of reaching out to girls’ schools: “This is almost like our signature. We feel a special calling to the young women.”
Hakanson noted that WOGO doctors are traveling to societies where girls do not have a lot of female professional role models, like in Nepal where there are no female physicians.
“It’s an obligation to give back in the ways we can give back,” remarked Hakanson.
Vedder noted, “The trip is also unique in that it is led by a group of highly accomplished women surgeons. The mission of WOGO is much bigger than just joint replacements. We have the opportunity to empower and inspire a generation of young girls through education and mentoring. Dr. Hakanson and her colleagues can provide a vision full of possibilities for these young girls that they may not otherwise have had.”
WOGO leaders have organized fundraisers over the past year to pay for the trip. Hakanson said the group sponsored a golf tournament at a PGA course in Florida, which raised $25,000. The group also has received a few corporation donations, now that the group is more well known.
Hakanson said of those who donated for the previous trip: “Last year was just a leap of faith. We’re so appreciative of the people who gave.”
For more information about Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach, visit www.wogo.org.
Contact Meghann Evans at 719-1952 or email@example.com.