Cincinnati Children's Blog

Ghana 2012: Big mission requires months of planning

It takes a lot of work to schedule patients, obtain supplies and arrange the staff to run three operating rooms for a week.

It takes even more work when the operating rooms are located on another continent.

So when a team of 34 surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and volunteers assembled in Ghana this weekend to begin a week-long surgical mission project, their arrival marked the culmination of months of detail work.

The project, organized through the Colorectal Center at Cincinnati Children’s, involved a blizzard of details.

  • Scheduling dozens of patients, including several families that will be traveling from far beyond Accra.
  • Travel arrangements for team members flying in from Cincinnati, the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa and other locations.
  • Vaccinations and travel visas.
  • Obtaining licenses from Ghana to allow the doctors and nurses to do their work.
  • Lodging and meals.
  • And most of all, supplies.

“Our intent is to take everything we need with us to avoid any drain on local resources,” says Marc Levitt, MD, director of the Colorectal Center.

Making that happen requires skilled support.

“The surgical teams are the meat and potatoes of the mission. But paving the way for them means gathering supplies and equipment, getting it all through customs, and delivering it when and where it will be needed,” says Nelson Lees, a former Chiquita Brands executive who will be traveling with the team.

Most of the detail work for the trip was handled by Lees, team volunteer George Rodriguez and Gretchen Niebling, administrative supervisor for the Colorectal Center.

This trip involved filling three 20-foot-long shipping containers with supplies for the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, where the team will work.

One container, organized by Cincinnati-based team members is filled with about 120 boxes of medical supplies, materials for renovating a 20-room Mothers’ Hostel and gifts for the children who will be going through extensive surgery.

Another container of supplies has been organized by team members based in the Netherlands. This container includes 60 boxes of supplies plus some larger pieces of equipment to be donated to the hospital.

The surgeons will be using their own instruments, designed for delicate pediatic surgery. Donated supplies include monitoring equipment, infant-sized blood pressure cuffs, pediatric anesthesia masks, sutures, sponges, lubricating gel, boxes of gloves and gowns and more than a dozen different sizes of needles, syringes, catheters and tracheal tubes.

About 600 pounds of supplies were donated to this project through Cleveland-based MedWish International, a non-profit organization that repurposes medical supplies and equipment discarded by the health care industry.

A variety of pharmaceutical and medical supply companies also donated samples and supplies for the mission. In fact, Gary Heiman, CEO of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile, has arranged to send a third shipping container filled with donated bed linens and related hospital supplies.

Every bit of support, large and small, makes a difference, Lees says.

Lees traveled extensively through Africa, Central and South America and Europe for Chiquita. He became involved with the Colorectal Center’s mission trips when he traveled to Ethiopia in 2009 with his wife, Anna Varughese, MD, MPH, associate director of the Division of Anesthesia at Cincinnati Children’s.

“At first, I mostly wanted the opportunity to see up close what my wife does,” Lees says. “But I soon realized that my experiences could add value to the mission. A lot of things can go wrong, and often do, but we make sure many more things go right.”

Even for a seasoned traveler, the Colorectal Center’s medical missions have opened new worlds.

“These people are the best in the world at what they do,” Lees says. “The neat thing is that they aren’t doing this for the money or the glory. They are really going to help children and share what they’ve learned with others. It’s a real honor to be working at their side.”


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