St. Anthony Summit Medical Center orthopaedic team performs surgery in Rwanda
September 19, 2010
Images of the terror-filled genocide still fills our minds when we think about Rwanda, but in fact the country has made impressive progress since that 1994 tragedy. Dr. Peter Janes, orthopaedic surgeon at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, his wife, Patti (an OR nurse) and his daughter Rebecca (a pre-vet student at CSU) traveled to Rwanda in August along with nurse anesthetist, Matt Cowell and other Centura Health medical professionals to help those in need.
Arriving in Kigali on the heels of a national election which gave President Paul Kagame a 93 percent approval rate, the team soon discovered that Rwanda’s capital city is a booming city of over 1 million people with modern buildings and services. Traveling about four hours from Kigali, however, reveals a completely different side to the country.
Mugonero Hospital is a rural hospital located west of Rwanda next to Lake Kivu, a large and deep lake along Africa’s rift valley which forms the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Modern life has yet to arrive in this part of the country (except for cell phones) and the vast majority of the population still live on less than $1 per day. This is the setting where Dr. Janes examined over 60 patients and performed 19 surgeries for those who simply had no other opportunity to see, let alone be treated by an orthopaedic surgeon.
Healthcare is a sector of society that had to be completely rebuilt following the genocide. The physician population in Rwanda was decimated; the doctors were either killed or fled the country. A School of Medicine was re-established at the University of Rwanda, but only provided general medical education. Currently there are only about 500 practicing physicians in the whole country, with a population of nearly 10 million. A single urban hospital in the United States normally has more physicians than the entire country of Rwanda. And of those 500 physicians, only two are orthopaedic surgeons. Both are employed at a large private hospital in Kigali. In the district hospitals, only general practice physicians are employed, and maybe a general surgeon. There are no orthopedic surgeons for hundreds of kilometers.
Dr. Janes saw a wide variety of orthopaedic problems while at Mugonero Hospital. Many fractures were old, often the patients have been waiting for weeks or even months to receive surgery. One man broke his leg while the team was in Rwanda, but traveled for one hour on foot with a serious femur fracture, and then rode on the back of a motorcycle for another hour on bumpy four-wheel drive roads until he could reach the hospital. Patients came from surrounding hospitals where they were hoping and praying that someone would care for them. One elderly patient had to live with an old wound that could only be treated by amputation. Many young children suffer from a condition called “club feet” in which their feet turn inwards and eventually turn over so that they end up walking on their ankles. These and other issues which are rarely seen in the U.S. kept the team busy throughout an intense week of surgery and consultations.
The week brought both triumphs and tears, but was an incredible experience for those who participated. It is amazing how a small mountain hospital in Colorado was able to provide such care for those in need all the way over in Africa.