Medical mission trip delivers world-class orthopedic care

Earlier this year, the hip surgery team at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center packed supplies and equipment to set up a state-of-the-art orthopedic suite at Jesuit sponsored Juan Bosco Hospital in Le Vega, Dominican Republic. The team completed 17 total hip replacements, all on people whose conditions were so advanced that they could barely get around, if at all.

“If these patients were in the U.S., they would have been operated on years before,” says orthopedic surgeon Paul Duwelius, M.D. “Many of them needed extensive, complex surgeries, but I think we significantly helped every one of them. The conditions were a bit challenging, but we worked well with the local hospital team.”

The Dominican Republic is relatively well off compared with Haiti, its island neighbor. But its medical services are rudimentary by U.S. standards, and many citizens are unable to get care because of lack of transportation and funds to pay for their care.

“Many of the people on our team have been on medical mission trips before, to the Dominican Republic or other countries,” says Joan Taylor, R.N., PSVMC operating room associate manager. “Where we go, they just don’t have the money to buy equipment. 

And paying for a new hip prosthesis would be out of the question for almost everyone. So, we brought about a half million dollars worth of material.” Equipment and supplies came from charitable organizations that receive donations from vendors and providers. The staff all took paid time off to go, and the physicians paid their own travel expenses. The team is also working to raise the level of care in the Dominican Republic for the long term. They teach new techniques to the physicians and staff, and they leave behind their donated medical equipment and supplies.

“I get so much more out of these trips than I give back,” says Dr. Duwelius. “The smiles from patients, the satisfaction of teaching the residents and the rewards of working with people from another culture are great. Almost everyone who goes on a medical mission wants to do it again.”