Flying Orthopedic Care to Peru
Peru's natural beauty belies the hardships that most of its residents experience. Amid the lush tropical rainforests which blanket the South American nation, the sweeping mountains and sprawling coastlines, the colorful marketplaces and the rainbow of colors that make up the woven ponchos of villagers is a poverty level of nearly 40% with extreme poverty affecting a large portion of that group. The reality of daily life for a majority of Peru’s citizens is far from idyllic.
Naturally, with such levels of poverty healthcare issues extend well beyond the basics and many Peruvians endure almost unimaginable hardships. This is where Eagle Condor Humanitarian has stepped in—to fill the void one patient at a time.
Orthopedic Procedures That Are Changing Lives
Imagine you are a villager in one of Peru's mountainous communities. As a mother of four, you're responsible for the needs of your children, keeping up your modest dwellings, growing food and perhaps earning money walking several miles to sell produce. One day, when repairing your roof, you slip and fall the equivalent of two stories. Of course there's no ambulance to call and even if transportation wasn't an issue, there is still a mountain of medical obstacles to overcome including 1950s era diagnostic and treatment tools.
Of course, your family still needs you to care for them. So you do what any good Peruvian mother would, you rest, use what traditional remedies are available and try to manage through the pain. When the pain becomes unbearable, you somehow find a way to get to the nearest public hospital and the best treatment they can offer is further rest.
But thanks to Eagle Condor and its team of volunteer surgeons, this story has a happy ending. Eagle Condor’s group of orthopedic surgeons accurately diagnosed this Peruvian mother’s trauma as a cervical fracture and dislocation (an injury that could have resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic). The team operated and had the patient back on her feet within 48 hours! After returning home and healing she began to work for the department of health, a dramatic display of the ripple effect created by these volunteer surgeons.
Eagle Condor Humanitarian is a non-profit charitable organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. The organization was founded in 2003 by a small group: Kelly Shepherd, Jaime Figueroa and his wife Terry, Ken Deyhle and Sandy Daniels. The vision was to deliver three basic but essential services to impoverished corners of the world: to provide micro loan training programs, to organize medical care expeditions and to provide community support. "These founding members, " explains President of Eagle Condor, Jan Felix, "all wanted to give back something and created an organization that focused on helping people in desperate need of support."
Eagle Condor’s mission statement is "Enriching lives, empowering people while building self-reliance." The organization’s geographic focus is currently Northern Peru and more specifically the cities of Chiclayo, Piura, Trujillo and also Cuzco. The team’s medical focus is orthopedic care.
A "Unique Group" of Surgeons
Of course none of these procedures would be possible without a team of volunteer surgeons. "Our volunteer surgeons are a unique group. We know how much revenue they could be generating conducting these procedures in the U.S., yet they arrange their schedules months in advance to ensure they will be able to attend an expedition, " says Felix.
"It is a wonderful thing to watch one of the surgeries being performed because these surgeons have such collaboration. I can't recall ever seeing orthopedic and neurological surgeons working together with such teamwork. Surgeons with 40 years experience working alongside young upstarts in the field and everyone gives opinions and takes each other ideas into account. The spirit of Eagle Condor definitely is forged in the operating room."
Felix explains that volunteer doctors work in both community clinics and area hospitals. Most cases are from falls and spinal injuries however Felix says the doctors also encounter more complex issues like tumors. One such case was a patient with a tumor that ran down the full length of the spine. The resulting 12-hour surgery was a procedure none of the regional surgeons would have been able to tackle.
Dr. Brent Felix, nephew of Jan Felix and founder of Innovasis, explains why he chose to join the expedition team, "One of my partners went to Peru and showed me pictures and it looked very intriguing. I was watching for an opportunity to help like this." He says orthopedic equipment is in short supply in the country. "We've been going down many years now and every time take down instruments, but on our first expedition the selection of instruments was so small, it made us really appreciate what we have here in the states."
Dr. Daniel Capen, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard and three other southern California hospitals explains "In Peru some facilities are true time travel to the 50s and 60s others are more modernized, but the equipment and staff are challenged. Most of the MDs we work with in Peru are very informed and could pass written exams easily, but are very technique inexperienced." One of his most memorable cases was an anterior cervical fusion with an OR light missing 15 of its 20 bulbs. "I asked for more light and the Peruvian anesthesiologist gave up his goose-neck reading light and put it over my shoulder into the field."
Eagle Condor would like to expand. The team has completed ten successful medical expeditions in just over three years. Dr. Felix assures prospective orthopedic volunteers that this is one experience that never disappoints. "I don’t know of one surgeon that has ever regretted attending an expedition; we have a very high repeat rate. Our surgeons can't wait to go back."
The Perfect Partnership
Innovasis, a research, development, manufacturing, and marketing company which provides spinal implant devices and related products and is also based in Salt Lake is partnered with Eagle Condor. Innovasis provides Eagle Condor with office space as well as access to its line of implants and instruments. Innovasis’ products are designed for such difficult pathologies as deformities, degenerative conditions, trauma and tumors, making the pair a match made in orthopedic heaven.
"Dr. Felix had a high interest in humanitarian work in third world countries, " explains Dave McKean, V.P. of Operations for Innovasis. "His desire to involve his wife and children in this work caused him to seek a humanitarian group who could offer opportunities for the family while the doctors were in surgery." He explains that with the partnering Eagle Condor was able to expand its mission beyond dental and maxillofacial care to orthopedics. "It was a perfect fit for Innovasis to find a group who shared a similar mission and values."
The amount of instruments Innovasis provides is impressive. According to McKean, for every Eagle Condor expedition, the company sends along as many as seven suitcases of instrument boxes, spinal screws, rod sets, bone filler, rod cutters and any other key instruments the surgeons may require. "The materials are all donated.” McKean adds that the transporting of hundreds of thousands of dollars of this hardware onto regular commercial airline flights is always a thrilling experience. "To this date, nothing has ever been lost or stolen, but Innovasis is always willing to take this financial risk in order to help."
Exchanging Ideas, Inspiring Hope
"Sharing new techniques in surgery is always welcomed by our Peruvian doctor associates, " adds McKean. In fact the Peruvians doctors are able to observe and generally work alongside their American counterparts, receiving hands-on training in cutting-edge orthopedic procedures. "By operating with the Peruvian doctors we know their skills have improved which continues service to patients after the Americans have left."
Of course, it's also the Americans who benefit. "It is evident that the Peruvian humanitarian expeditions by Innovasis have a profound effect on our engineers and staff, " says McKean. "When expedition members return and share their experiences with our employees, it brings a tremendous sense of fulfillment to those who designed and created our products."
Beyond the Operating Room
Eagle Condor encourages surgeons' spouses and children to take an active role in the expeditions and make these trips a family affair. While surgeons are in the OR, families are working on village improvements, for example, constructing a school for 44 children. This simple building saved the village children a daily four hour walk to the closest school. "Our family members do everything from paint classroom chairs to pour concrete for the construction of modern bathrooms with flush toilets, " says Jan Felix.
"The doctor’s partners and children have had marvelous experiences which can be shared by the entire family and not just the surgeon upon their return, " adds McKean.
South American Holy Men have a prophecy that foresees a reunion of the "People of the Eagle" and the "People of the Condor." The "People of the Eagle" are said to be those that dwell in the land of the scientific and intellect, while the "People of the Condor" are grounded and in touch with the natural world around them.
The legend goes that once these groups were one, but over time chose different paths. Both groups obtained their own skills, but also suffered from the limitations of their chosen destiny. It is said that only when the two peoples are able to come together to share their unique wisdom with each will there be balance again. Eagle Condor Humanitarian has taken this prophecy and even if it is only for a small group of communities, has turned it into a reality.
For more information about Eagle Condor contact Jan Felix at 801-310-7784.