Helping Hands: Three weeks in Rwanda |

Helping Hands: Three weeks in Rwanda

Kathryn Corazzelli
summit daily news
Special to the Daily

As Vail-Summit Orthopaedics surgeon Dr. Peter Janes points to a picture of a 10-year-old Rwandan boy in a red T-shirt, “This is the reason I went back,” he says.

Janes had seen and operated on the boy, Joseph, during an August 2010 trip to the war-torn country. At Joseph’s first visit, his bone had been sticking out of his arm for a year.

“His bone was dead and infected, and that’s how he came to us,” Janes said.

This was Janes’ second trip to Rwanda with Centura Global Health Initiatives, a program providing medical mission trips for volunteer doctors, medical professionals and non-medical volunteers. The group provides no-cost surgical, medical and community health programs, education, training and relief in areas where health care is often limited or difficult to obtain. Locations include Peru, Belize, Nepal and Rwanda.

Janes flipped to another slide from his three-week trip, showing Joseph at the beginning of Janes’ visit this August. The boy’s wrist was turned to a 90-degree angle.

“This is what I thought was going to happen,” Janes said. “He’s growing too much, and his radius isn’t connected to anything. So he’s going to have a hand that deviates. So I’ve been thinking about him for a year. And sure enough, here’s what happened.”

Janes operated on Joseph again this summer, turning his hand around. One of the final slides in Janes’ series shows the boy in a cast, smiling because he’s able to grip a few sheets of paper. The surgeon is keeping in touch weekly with therapists about Joseph, and all the other patients he treated, to make sure rehabilitation is going well.

“Now I want to go back and see if it’s healing,” Janes said of Joseph’s arm.

The August trip consisted of about 20 people, including a surgical team made up of Janes’ wife, Patti, a surgical scrub nurse at the hospital, Kay Roth, also a St. Anthony nurse, nurse anesthetist Matthew Cowell and surgical team volunteer Jed Scheutze. Janes’ daughter and Colorado State University senior Rebekah was also there to volunteer. Others in the group worked elsewhere, including orphanages and outreach clinics.

Of the roughly 10 million people in Rwanda, there are only about five orthopedic surgeons. And they work in general surgery, there is no family practice, Janes said. The surgeons over there still use cloth drapes – “We don’t use cloth drapes” – and work with less and less advanced equipment. One local nurse opened a window in the operating room to improve her cell phone reception, letting in more flies and mosquitos to the already filled space. Another local scrub nurse had never seen a paper gown before.

“They just don’t have the facilities to treat a fractured bone like we do,” Janes said.

The team worked in a few different hospitals all over the country, performing about 25 surgeries. Walking into one hospital for the first time, Janes’ name was on the board for almost every operation. He had never met any of the patients, and didn’t know their backstories. The team saw a lot of neglected trauma, infection and club feet. Many patients lived with injuries for weeks, sometimes longer, before receiving treatment.

One such patient was a 14-year-old boy named Wellars. He had been sitting in a splint for six weeks with a broken femur. The team got him anesthetized, had him draped and scrubbed his leg. There was a good amount of dirt coming off the boy.

“I just got this really bad feeling, like I shouldn’t do this,” Janes said. “There were about a half a dozen things that weren’t right.”

Worried about infection and a possible amputation, Janes called the surgery off, the scalpel in Patti’s hand. Janes and his team were able to transfer Wellars a week later to a hospital with better equipment. The surgical materials provided included a rod developed in WW2 by the Germans, “and that’s all they had.” Janes had never used the rod before in his life, but it helped repair the boy’s leg.

“He wouldn’t have been treated,” Janes said. Wellars would have lived the rest of his life on crutches, with a short leg and rotated foot.

After their time in Rwanda, Janes and his family stopped in Paris on the way back.

“It’s hard coming back to the West,” he said.

Janes talked about the $1 beer and $2 fish dinner he had in Africa, compared to the $15 beer and $20 bowl of soup in France. He talked about his accommodations and rural construction in Rwanda, compared to walking around Paris and the Louvre Museum.

Of the whole trip, “I feel like we’re just helping a few folks, rather than saving Africa.”

“It makes me appreciate what I have here,” Janes said. “It kind of steals a piece of your heart.”

For more information about the global health initiatives, go to

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