Sunday, April 10, 2011

Medical team in Haiti - The Club Foot Clinic

The "waiting room"

The central hallway that runs through the clinic building was lined with mothers holding babies, soothing crying children, nursing infants, shushing toddlers—all waiting for their turn at the club foot clinic. Parents came from miles around with their children, displaying an array of leg and foot abnormalities. The lucky ones were able to walk on their own or with limited assistance. But the majority were non-ambulatory, relying on a parent or relative to carry them.

The first patient of the day

It was on the first day of the clinic that Dr. Bheki, a podiatrist from Memphis (originally from South Africa), performed his first outpatient surgery of the week on the very first patient. In a small square room with light blue walls and a cement floor stood a single table covered in a white sheet. Surrounding that table was a talented medical team that would change the course of this child’s life forever.

She was an infant, no more than 1 year old—the sweetest little girl with smiles for everyone and tiny laughs. With a simple set of surgical tools and skilled hands, the tension was released on the child’s Achilles tendon, the foot carefully set in the proper position and finally casted.

Dr. Bheki preparing for surgery

Michele begins casting the child's leg following the procedure

When one leg was complete, they set to work on her other leg, casting it as well before the appointment was over. All the while, she cried little and we were amazed by her cheerful temperament. (Author’s note: I cannot imagine how incredibly hot and itchy her little legs must be in those plaster casts in the Haitian sun. But what a small price to pay to have the opportunity to walk someday. I had the honor of holding her after both casts were applied while her mother went to the pharmacy—one of the highlights of my day!)

One surgery and two casts later

Hour after hour, infants and toddlers came to have their feet and legs examined. The team consisted of Dr. Bheki, Nick (a physical therapist from Memphis) and Michele (a Haitian physical therapist who has been working at St. Vincent’s School for 10 years). Together, the team discussed each case in detail, determining how to best treat the child within the means of the clinic.

Piercing eyes wondered what the doctors were going to do

A group consultation to determine the best course of action

X-rays were studied through the light of a single small window on the only exterior wall. Debates ensued, weighing the pros and cons of each treatment plan (i.e. would putting a child in a brace for the right leg cause damage to the left hip). Many casts were applied and many referrals to hospitals and specialists were made. Each appointment was complex and lengthy, exhausting work in the heat.

Dr. Bheki and Nick reviewing x-rays

X-rays reveal the challenges ahead

As Dr. Eric surmised during our trip to St. Vincent’s in February, even though the clinic had few supplies, in the hands of properly trained people, small miracles could be performed. And that’s exactly what we witnessed day-after-day in St. Vincent’s clinic.

"The Great
Lekinsky", one of St. Vincent's students and, today, a patient

Children who may not ever have been treated were seen by a very talented and diverse group of physicians and medical providers. Each case was handled as if they were full paying clients. Every effort was made to provide the optimum care for a lifetime of results for every child, every family.

Imagine how much more can be done when the permanent clinic and surgical center are rebuilt on St. Vincent’s demolished property. No more referrals to specialists and hospitals. Everything can be done in-house. Top notch, turnkey care. The possibilities are endless. Let's help make it happen.

One of the tiny patients leaving the club foot clinic

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