In the first week of March, the World Pediatric Project returned to St. Vincent, this time for an ophthalmology clinic. The WPP trip, the third for 2017 thus far, brought another group of the NGO's seasoned specialists to the island nation's Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. As is usually the case, a group of Trinity's 5th term students were there to assist, observe, and learn.
The trip was led by renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Donna Brown from the Virginia Eye Institute and plastic surgeon Dr. Nadia Blanchet. Team members included Sarah Thacker, OR nurse from Dr. Blanchet’s private practice; Doctors Rob Brown and Kent Rollins, urologists from Virginia Urology; Dr. James Stone, an anesthesiologist from Johnston-Willis Hospital; Lisa Sizemore, OR nurse and Mary O’Hanley, CRNA, both from the Virginia Eye Institute; and Karen Brown, a fourth year medical student. All came to provide acute, necessary care to Vincentians, going as far as transporting some cases back to the US for treatment.
Dr. Brown led her team through a series of cases, with Trinity students there each step of the way, as a teaching opportunity. During the several hours expended on clinic day, a total of sixty-one patients were seen. Dr. Brown explained her experience with the project. “Initially, we did eye muscle surgeries on children who had strabismus [ed. crossed eyes or drifting eyes]. This is not a cosmetic procedure: in children, an eye that crosses can lag behind in vision development, which can lead to people with a fully functional eye that can’t see; the brain hasn’t learned to use it.” She continued, "This is a small but critical vision saving or improving procedure.” She also noted that, "The complication rate of this procedure is very low." She continued on through the case load, “Now we're also providing intra-ocular surgeries. That means cataract surgeries in children and corneal transplants.” Dr. Brown said that she is now able to tackle these with the new state of the art equipment installed at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital and through collaborations with local ophthalmologists.
Trinity students took part in four hours of consultations with the team and were clearly affected by the experience. Fifth term student Sarah Davis commented, “There are so many advanced or complex cases that we read about and have not seen yet (in our studies), so this opportunity was tremendous. Today was exhilarating, informative, and exhausting all at once. Because WPP comes back so frequently and does follow-ups, we also got to see a lot of progression with past patients, examples of procedures being done today that have healed. It's so valuable to connect it all.” Of the sixty-one cases seen on clinic day, twenty-one were scheduled for surgeries at the hospital in Kingstown, while five more complex cases were referred for surgeries in the United States.
Equally impressed and grateful, student Emma Damond said, “It was a privelage. There were a lot of congenital cases that will help with quality of life for the patients, and as doctors, it was a glimpse at a specialty in action and in the trenches. Even if I do not go into ophthalmology, I'll still remember what I've learned today.”
Another Trinity student, Caithlyn Laird, spoke up, “My dream is to work with Doctors Without Borders, so observing missions like this show me some of my own future. The idea of going and putting my skills to use in places in need appeals to me at a deeply personal level, seeing it in action is inspiring.” She was kind to credit Trinity for the opportunity, noting, “We’ve been coming to the hospital since day one at Trinity and I think that’s a great advantage that we have over some of the other schools. We get to engage in this early exposure. There’s the doctor-patient interaction, which is so much a part of medicine, and getting there right from the start has been great. And then there are the special experiences like this that are just really amazing.”
Trinity School of Medicine and the World Pediatric Project have a longstanding relationship that both groups value. Click here to read more about past missions.