On Friday, February 21, 2014, nine surgeons, an anaesthesiologist, an operating room scrub technician, and an administrative assistant boarded planes in Houston, Baltimore, New York, San Antonio, Munich and Toronto. They were all headed to Kigali, Rwanda as part of the second Face the Future™ surgical mission to Rwanda. As President and Founder of the Foundation, I was the Chef de Mission, while Dr. Ife Sofola, a facial plastic surgeon from Houston, Texas, was the Team Leader. Our surgeons came from academic centers such as Johns Hopkins, Downstate New York, Baylor University, University of Regensburg, and University of Toronto.
Once in Kigali, we stayed at the Gorillas Hotel – you may wonder about the name, but it comes from the mountain gorillas that live in Rwanda, one of the only two places in the world where they are found in the wild. Our first day we broke into teams – one team triaged the 51 patients on whom we consulted, organized identifying information and took photographs. Our patients then came to a second room were two multidisciplinary specialty teams assessed and discussed each patient’s diagnosis and treatment plan. It was an exceptional experience to work with some of the world’s most talented and experienced surgeons as they tackled some of the most complex and difficult cases one can imagine.
Ultimately, we operated on 35 patients over four days, a few of them requiring two surgical team approaches (four surgeons) and lasting the full day. Our challenges included severe congenital and traumatic bony and soft tissue facial defects, periocular reconstructions, facial tumours, hemangiomas and keloid scars, amongst others.
These procedures were carried out in the Rwandan Military Hospital – notwithstanding its name, it is a public hospital and treats primarily civilians. The hospital had a new intensive care unit (ICU) which had limited but satisfactory equipment for our more complex cases. Many local surgeons, their resident trainees, and nurses also took part in the week’s activities. These included teaching in the operating room, rounds and lectures. Our goal is to partner with our healthcare colleagues in Rwanda, with the support of their Ministry of Health, to build capacity and improve standards of care.
Our colleagues, and the people of Rwanda in general, are exceptional individuals. They just have not had all the serendipitous good fortune that we enjoy in North America. We are able to help them reach their goals, and they are able to teach us valuable life lessons – especially about making the most of every day and gratitude.
Each and every member of the team felt grateful and rewarded to be a part of the mission – we are already making plans to return next year.