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Supporting Surgeons in Haiti

  • January 10, 2007

Hydrocephalus, often known as “water on the brain,” is a disease that affects two out of every 1,000 births in the U.S.; fortunately, for most infants here a somewhat simple operation allows them a greater chance at a normal life. In Haiti however, where access to medical care is extremely limited and few physicians are trained in surgical techniques, the outlook for most young children is grim.  Without surgery, the condition creates pressure on the brain causing severe damage and eventually death.

 Dr. John Ragheb and his medical mission team.

For more than three years, AmeriCares’ Medical Outreach Program has been supporting “The Hydrocephalus Project,” a pediatric neurosurgery initiative led by Dr. John Ragheb, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Miami Children’s Hospital and Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the University of Miami.  Twice a year, Dr. Ragheb and a team of medical volunteers travel to Haiti where they perform vetriculostomy surgeries, a special procedure designed to relieve pressure on the brain and give the affected children a better chance for a normal life.  AmeriCares supports the missions with donations of medicines and medical supplies, including anesthesia for use during the surgeries and antibiotics for the post-operation recovery phase. 

“We appreciate your willingness to help us on short notice, and make changes and expedite requests when needed.  We could not have had such a successful mission without you and your organization,” Dr. Ragheb wrote in a letter to AmeriCares following a trip to Haiti earlier this year. 

Volunteers including neurosurgeons, nurses, residents and medical students from the Miami area completed two missions to Haiti in 2006.  In May, they traveled to Port au Prince for their fourth surgical trip since the program began in 2003. There, they performed 21 surgeries, 19 of which were for hydrocephalus.  In November, a team of 21 volunteers visited for a second round of 17 new surgeries as well as follow-up visits with children who had been operated on in May.

 Team members pose with the children.

“Fortunately, with each trip the children referred for care are younger and less disabled; reflecting the recognition by the medical community that we will come regularly to provide care and that there is hope for these children,” says Ann McNeil, the pediatric neurosurgery nurse specialist who works with the Miami team.  “Our ultimate goal has always been to train and equip Haitian surgeons to care for children with hydrocephalus.  We are searching for opportunities to teach medical students to understand and diagnose neurological disorders in children and to expose them to the surgical management of these diseases. We hope that this experience will attract the most talented students to the field of neurosurgery so that we can train the Haitian neurosurgeons of the future, who will themselves become the teachers of subsequent generations of neurosurgeons.

AmeriCares Medical Outreach Program donates medical products to qualified U.S. healthcare professionals who are traveling overseas to provide charitable medical care to some of the neediest and most under-served people in the world.  Requests for donations come from a wide spectrum of health care professionals, ranging from individual physicians and faith-based medical groups to sophisticated surgical teams such as those from the Hydrocephalus Project.  The recipients of AmeriCares medical donations have traveled to more than 80 countries, including some of the poorest parts of the world where even basic medical care is often non-existent.

More information on AmeriCares Medical Outreach Program.