From our translator and friend, Brandon, in Afagnan, Togo:
I hope all of you travelled well with a good souvenir of your mission time at Afagnan.
And I think you enjoy helping people from the third world.
We also liked your help. And I should tell you that I personally loved working with you.The whole of the patients, the children,the school boys and girls -you paid for-, and the population of Afagnan join their heart and voices to John's, Madrid's and mine to thank you for everything that you do for us. May the Almighty God bless all of you for helping us.
I especially I'll never stop thanking you for what you did for me and any other person.
And now it is time to say thank you and goodbye. We hosted a small thank you gathering for Sister Simona and her staff. Everyone in the hospital who had worked with us was given a certificate of appreciation, followed by refreshments. Grinning below is the hospital's head nurse, the indispensable Sister Felicienne, holding her certificate of appreciation, which goes only a small way in showing our gratitude for her selfless dedication to our mission's needs, every hour of every day at the hospital.
Paula Fillari’s fluency in Italian was a huge asset to the success of this mission. She and Sister formed a close bond, and through Paula we learned that the hospital staff viewed our team as both very capable and very friendly. They were especially impressed with how kind we were to their patients. Kudos to all on the team who contributed to the good will.
In the midst of our final packing, a trauma case came into the emergency room. A motorcycle accident had resulted in a partially-detached ear. Sister Simona asked for help and our plastic surgeons and OR nurses willingly jumped back into scrubs and repaired the problem. Great attitudes and more good will.
Many thanks to Mission Director Rosalie Wells for “rising to the occasion” in a third world environment. Her previous mission experience was invaluable. She is pictured here with the chief of the county surrounding Afagnan, and our translator Montana.
Many thanks to Medical Director Angelo Capozzi, co-founder of Rotaplast, and the consummate professional. His passion for the cause continues to inspire the rest of us. He is pictured below explaining surgical procedures to the non-medical volunteers from Maine, and our dentist Mabel.
Many thanks to the entire team!
There is a stone in the yard behind the hospital which leaves us with a final thought to carry home: “It is no small thing that which is done out of love.”
Our final clinic day arrived. Surgeon Sister Simona Villa is pictured below with our doctors and nurses doing rounds in the pediatric ward. It was our final opportunity to evaluate the children we have treated and to leave instructions for any follow-up care after our departure. It must also be noted that the doctors and nurses in the pediatric ward, already overwhelmed by their own patients, made room in the ward and in their schedules to treat the Rotaplast patients with care (and deal with all our comings and goings!).
We also invited back all of our patients who were previously discharged. It was fun to see patient #1 back with a big smile and full of activity.
The following before and after pictures illustrate the challenge and the reward. We treated all who came to us. Our time has been well spent!
A daily treat for all of us was visiting the wards. Faces would light up as we entered their rooms. We had become part of their community. Priceless!
In every way, this mission has been a dynamic process. Every day there is someone new to see whom we will help in ways that will truly change their lives. A special story is about the 13-year old young man with a cleft lip who waited almost 13 years for treatment. When he was only 8 days old, his father brought him to the hospital for care. He was told that the baby was too young for treatment. Father misinterpreted that he would have to be “grown up” before the cleft could be fixed. Now that he is almost as tall as his father, he was brought for care.
Below is the transformation. The before, the after, and the family together. It was personally moving for me and for the others in the recovery room when OR nurse Lianna made sure he was given a mirror to see his new face. He looked...and looked...and looked. And then a tear fell from his eye. When I looked around the recovery room, it was clear that we were all sharing in the emotion.
Rotarians Gone Wild
After a hard day at the hospital we did have a few laughs in the evening. Check out Sule, Ellie and Ann in local attire.
No, it’s not a real word, but it should be. Watching this Rotaplast team in action is impressive. The job could not be done without the entire team working in unison, and every person has performed with distinction.
Below is a picture of a burn repair patient in the recovery room with pediatrician Amie Shaw. Amie is very popular amongst the team as the controller/gate-keeper of Cipro... (There are advantages to being surrounded by so many doctors).
Our days continue: more screenings, cleft repairs, skin grafts for burns, and dressing changes. A critical role on the team is our sterilizer Ellie Andrews, who keeps clean instruments in the right rooms at the right time.
And then there is lunch as seen below. It looks like we’re getting ready for a shower with all the hair caps. It’s a quick feed and then back to surgery.
I’m always looking for a good story and today was no exception. Anesthesiologist Helen O’Keeffe Vajk’s son Stephen is a lighting engineer back in the states. Prior to Helen leaving for this trip, he insisted that she take some cutting-edge, high pressure tape that he uses - “because you just never know when you’ll need it”. Well, Helen would have been out of luck with her oxygen line not connecting to the hospital’s oxygen line if she didn’t have that tape to create a safe connection. Way to go Stephen!
While our focus is repairing cleft lips and cleft palates, our schedule has allowed a small variety of other procedures. Our little fellow mentioned earlier in the blog, who had fallen into the fire, is healing well with his skin grafts. He’s pictured below awaiting his first treatment.
The seven Rotarians from Maine can’t believe how it’s 88 degrees on December 1st, considering that we have already had snow in October this year. But we’ll take it!
More activity all day. Our English-French interpreter Montana Mathieu, who is also the Program and Development Assistant at Rotaplast headquarters, and her Watchi-French translator Brandon, from the town of Afagnan, were critical in helping our patients understand their treatment. Below is a picture of Brandon explaining pre-op information to a patient scheduled for surgery.
We all know how tiring it can be to sit and wait for medical treatment, but patient transporter Leonard Seagren always figures out a way to keep people entertained. He’s now a yo-yo expert, and can often be seen driving his Nascar wheelchair, with a child on his lap. He has been looking for an excuse to be a kid again, and we think he has found his calling. He’s well-placed on the team!
More surgeries today: cleft lips and palates, skin grafts for burn patients, tumor removal, and follow-up for patients treated earlier in the week. We’ve seen some amazing work by our three anesthesiologists Michael, Sule and Helen. There are some tough challenges with very small babies and they have always been up to the task. Nice!
Our surgical instruments and equipment are obviously critical to our mission. Luckily we had Quartermaster Jim Price ‘at the ready’ when a quick repair was needed in the middle of a hand surgery. He’s pictured below, saving the day.
At 5:15 p.m. all of the Rotarians on the team departed for dinner with the oldest Rotary Club of Lome, Togo. It was an 80-mile round trip on some challenging roads. Four hours driving time - ouch! (And I mean that literally). It was interesting to connect with fellow Rotarians and we thank our Togolese hosts for their gracious invitation. We were home after midnight and with surgeries early in the morning it seemed best to submit this blog a bit late.
The children are recovering and the new smiles are being realized.
The morning started off with a surprise gift in the hallway outside our Operating Rooms. A young woman was on the way to another OR for a C-section, but just couldn’t wait. She delivered a beautiful baby girl. But Evelyn Abad noted that mom didn’t look happy... Paula Fillari noted that the mother was still in labor. Lo and behold, with assistance from Evelyn and Lianna Hooper (OR nurse), a little brother finally popped out!! Mother and twins are doing well, and we had our thrill for the day.
Our surgeries today included two patients with contractures from previous burn accidents. A contracture is tight skin and scar tissue that limits range of motion. Below is the feisty 6-year-old Ichada, ready for her first bandage change after surgery, with anesthesiologists Michael Johnston of Hawaii, and Sule Akin, of Adana, Turkey.
Our plastic surgeons released the contractures and grafted skin to make hands and limbs more functional. Even though our primary mission is cleft lip and cleft palate repair, we can sometimes fit other procedures into the schedule.
Our ward coordinator Joan Correll outdid herself in the pediatric ward today. In a small schoolroom on the hospital premises there she was singing “Frere Jacques” with teachers, nurses and 12 children. By the time we left the room they were still coloring, singing and clapping. It is heart-warming to find joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Lead PACU nurse Paula Fillari and her team have the challenge of staffing the hottest room in the hospital. However, they also have the joy of seeing parents reunited with their children who have just had surgery. There are lots of smiles and some tears of happiness. The picture below shows the transfer procession from recovery room to the ward, where the patients will stay overnight and sometimes a few days to be monitored by the pediatricians and surgeons. Check out the mother’s big smile, leading the way with baby in a brightly-colored Wrap-A-Smile quilt. (Thank you, Terry Hodskins of the Rotary Club of Wells, Maine, for starting such a wonderful program.)
What a difference a day makes! After long travel and weeks of preparation, both at home and in Togo, we could finally begin treatment.
Team Briefing Prior to first surgery
Our plastic surgeons are truly skilled artisans and magicians. They can take what was once a malformation impeding nutrition, speech, and a normal appearance, and suddenly produce a beautiful new smile. It is amazing to watch the procedures and the dedication with which they work.
It can be difficult for the parents to wait while their children are in surgery, but the joy they express when they see their “new” child for the first time is well worth the wait.
The surgical assistants, instrument handlers and scrub nurses from the hospital assist the Rotaplast surgeons, under the guidance of Rotaplast's OR nurses. An extra member of the team today was Dr. Amouzou, a plastic surgeon from Togo, who came to watch and learn from our doctors.
Today at lunch I, the photojournalist, asked Dr. Dennis Dundas, veteran of 10 Rotaplast missions, if he ever gets numb to the significance of these life-changing procedures. His comment was that every case is unique, every child is special, and the appreciation of the parents just cannot be duplicated. That is why he keeps coming back to volunteer with Rotaplast. That is obviously why we have so many veteran medical personnel on this mission, many of whom are using their personal vacation time to help.
As a first time participant with Rotaplast, I can say that I was amazed to see how the overall logistics were managed. Despite a new environment and new conditions, everyone pulled together for the common cause.
Sunday morning found us touring the hospital under the guidance of Sister Simona, the hospital's medical manager, who is also a general surgeon from Milan.
The hospital looks to be adequate for our needs. As is often the case, some rearrangement of the facilities was needed but Head Nurse Evelyn Abad worked her usual magic. Team leaders started the initial setup of their departments.
During our free time in the afternoon we were escorted to the Mono river, which separates Togo and the neighboring country of Benin. A surprise dugout canoe ("pirogue") ride gave us an opportunity to meet local inhabitants and to spread the word about our mission.
The highlight of the evening was the Afagnan-Aledjo drumming and dance group, performing with the presence of the local tribal chief. Earlier in the day we were also honored to meet Togbui Ahonsou Aristide Chaold VI, chief of the canton of Afagnan, at his luxurious residence.