When Francis* was born in Uganda, his parents admired their perfect baby. Only a skilled doctor could have seen the bump on his spine where the edges of several vertebrae were fused. But by the time Francis learned to walk, his locked spine began to push his upper body forward. By age 13, Francis’ posture had worsened, making daily life difficult.
No doctor in Uganda could correct Francis’ spine surgically. But for nine years, a volunteer spinal surgery team has been traveling to Mbarara, Uganda, to repair the spines of young people like Francis so they can live their lives fully, standing and walking straight. In July, the team operated on Francis and more than 30 others, using medicine and medical supplies donated by AmeriCares, including sterile surgical packs and medicine critical during hours-long operations.
Uganda Spine Surgery Mission is just one of 1,200 volunteer medical teams AmeriCares supported last year with more than $48 million in medicine and supplies. Like most teams, the spine team trains local doctors and nurses each time they visit – in this case, from Mbarara Hospital and Mbarara School of Medicine. The local students assisted in every step of patient care, even surgeries.
“This year we treated more patients and trained more health professionals that I had ever imagined we could,” says Isador Lieberman, M.D., who led the team. “We established a firm foundation with the health care community in Mbarara and at the university which will continue to flourish in the years to come.
Despite random electrical outages, Francis’ surgery went well and the team took a special interest in the young man who walked with the staff’s help only two days after surgery.
Matt McLaurin, a volunteer pre-med student from Louisiana State University, visited Francis with the team four days after surgery. “Francis put on a contagious smile,” says Matt. “He spoke to his mother and she translated his words: ‘These are the people who saved my life.’ Then Francis climbed out of bed, unassisted, and shook each of our hands in a thankful manner. Seeing Francis’ ability to regain so much strength after such a short time was not only motivating to the other patients, but to all of us on the surgical team.”