Helping Out in Haiti
In January, a 13-member team from the Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth made their annual medical mission trip to Haiti, where they spent five days caring for children with hydrocephalus.
The team of pediatric neurosurgeons, pediatric anesthesiologists and nurses travels to Haiti every holiday season in conjunction with Project Medishare, a Miami-based nonprofit organization with a 20-plusyear history of working to improve health conditions for the people of Haiti.
As with all mission trips, the team had to orient themselves quickly, working at Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince. “We hit the ground running,” says Katrina Meshell, RN, a pediatric neurosurgery operating room nurse at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “It helps that we’ve made the trip several times, and even though there are always new people with us, we work together well as a team. The doctors see patients in clinic while we set up our two ORs with supplies we’ve collected from our hospital’s mission bins. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”
Long Hours in the Operating Room
The Texas team was met by Project Medishare’s Margaret “Maguy” Rochelin, RN, who arranges for 60 to 70 children and their families to come to the clinic for evaluation on the first day. The team spends long hours in the OR on days two through four, performing eight surgeries – usually endoscopic third ventriculostomies – on each of the three days. On the final day, physicians see patients on the hospital wards and give follow-up care plans to Rochelin.
With its long history in Haiti, Project Medishare mobilized the first medical team on the ground just 12 hours after the Caribbean country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Through medical volunteers, the organization treats more than 180,000 people annually. The contributions of physicians and staff members affiliated with Memorial Hermann and UTHealth were generously supported by a gift from Dick Bassett to the Memorial Hermann Foundation. Bassett and his colleague, Debbie Davis, accompanied the team to Haiti.
Among the medical professionals on the trip was pediatric neurosurgeon Manish N. Shah, M.D., who received the 2017 Young Neurosurgeons Committee Public Service Citation from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons on April 25. The citation honors the extraordinary efforts of a young neurosurgeon who, outside the traditional art and science of neurosurgery, has served the public in a way that brings greater benefit to mankind and honor to the specialty.
A Fifth Trip
This year’s mission to Haiti was Dr. Shah’s fifth. He made his first trip in 2011 as a senior resident at Washington University School of Medicine, accompanying his mentor, David Limbrick, M.D., the 2012 recipient of the AANS Young Neurosurgeons Committee Public Service Citation. He returned twice in 2014 and again in 2015.
“It’s such a privilege to provide care for the children of Haiti and it’s incredibly meaningful to receive recognition from my peers for the work we do,” says Dr. Shah, who is the Director of Pediatric Spasticity and Epilepsy Surgery.
“Knowing that Dr. Limbrick also received the award makes me feel that I’m on the right track with my career, helping children with hydrocephalus in Houston and in Haiti.”
In addition to Katrina Meshell, RN, and Dr. Shah, the team included David Sandberg, M.D., FAANS, FACS, FAAP, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Mischer Neuroscience Institute, who holds the Dr. Marnie Rose Professorship in Pediatric Neurosurgery at UTHealth; anesthesiologist Maria Matuszczak, M.D., professor and director of pediatric anesthesia at McGovern Medical School; Ranu Jain, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology; neurosurgery residents Dan Monsivais, M.D., and Jessica Stark, M.D.; anesthesiology resident Shirley Cruz Beltran, M.D.; and nurses Linda Mobley, RN, Jenna Tally, RN, and Jenny Ermis, RN.
Filling a Massive Need
“Because Haiti has no formally trained pediatric neurosurgeons, we help provide pediatric neurosurgical care, rotating with other physician groups who collaborate with Project Medishare so that the hospital has pediatric neurosurgery coverage as often as possible,” Dr. Sandberg says. “Our team works very hard for five days. We prepare for the trip together and bring in all our own surgical supplies and equipment. To do eight surgeries in a day you have to be incredibly efficient. Everyone pitches in and does whatever is needed to help these kids. It’s always a very rewarding experience.”
While in Haiti, Dr. Sandberg and Dr. Shah worked with Yudy Lafortune, M.D., a Haitian-trained general surgeon at Hospital Bernard Mevs who is learning to perform basic neurosurgical procedures with John Ragheb, M.D., at Miami Children’s Hospital. “Yudy is a good surgeon and a good doctor,” Dr. Shah says. “We hope eventually to be able to train others in a long-term effort to improve pediatric neurosurgical care in Haiti. These kids have a tremendous need. Many have very large heads – something we don’t see in the United States because we treat hydrocephalus much earlier. If untreated, the condition leads to languishment and death after years of extreme challenges in their care. By treating these children, we massively improve the quality of life of the child and family.”
Dr. Matuszczak, who has participated in many medical missions and is fluent in French, helped with translation. “We manage difficult cases we normally don’t see in the western world, and yet our team works together as if we do this every day. For me, it’s always about making sure the anesthesia is as safe as we provide at home. Making all the right decisions for the treatment of these critically ill children takes incredible teamwork from all sides.”
Katrina Meshell has been making the Haiti trip since Dr. Sandberg first invited her four years ago. “It’s humbling and rewarding, and a real eye-opener that makes me appreciate everything we have here in Houston. The kids are very malnourished and their families are so grateful. It’s so much work, but I haven’t been able to walk away. It’s something I want to do and need to do. I plan to go back.”