Life-transforming surgical mission in Angola

During the surgical mission in Angola many patients received needed surgery

A skilled surgeon equipped with the needed supplies for a surgical mission can be a miracle worker! And two particular patients in Angola certainly experienced life-transforming surgery thanks to the care provided by Dr. Andrew Giles and sutures donated to HPIC by Ethicon recently.

Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC) equips doctors, teams and surgeons with Humanitarian Medical Kits to provide care for people living in vulnerable communities. And companies like Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, help us fill those kits in order to equip health workers.

Dr. Giles brought a kit for specialized care to Angola, where he and his wife Stacey worked at a mission hospital associated with Samaritan’s Purse. HPIC presented Dr. Giles’ project to Ethicon and the company agreed to donate a variety of sutures for the surgical mission. The kit from HPIC contained a large supply of sutures, particularly permanent sutures used for tendon repairs, hernia repairs, and skin closure.

“These were indispensable materials of high quality, which they would otherwise not have access to in Angola, ensuring that we could continue to provide the high-quality surgical care Angolans deserve.

“Appropriate supply of high-quality and affordable expendables helps to facilitate excellent patient care that can be accessed without cost barriers,” wrote Dr. Giles.

Skin grafting
“One common use for the type of suture that was donated is in performing skin grafting,” Dr. Giles wrote in his report to HPIC. “Skin grafting is necessary in a wide variety of clinical scenarios – from treating burns, to venous ulcers, to severe infections requiring radical debridement. In addition, there are no surgical staples available in Angola. Thus, all wounds are closed with sutures. Permanent sutures, such as the Ethicon sutures, ensure we are working with good materials that decrease surgical time, improve wound healing, and decrease infection rates.”

He then went on in his report to share stories about two patients.

“Evangelina (name changed for privacy) is a young woman who suffered a series of misfortunes, including the death of her husband, leading up to a suicide attempt by drinking a caustic cleaning agent. This left her esophagus scarred to the point that she was unable to eat or drink. Although she was from Zambia, she came all the way to CEML to seek treatment. As soon as she arrived, a surgical feeding tube was placed to allow her to have nutrition.

On hopeful road to recovery
“Unfortunately she fell victim to a rare post-operative necrotizing infection, which required the removal of her skin on one entire half of her torso. She was in critical condition for several days, but with close medical attention, she rallied to the point that we could cover the area of lost skin with a skin graft from her leg. She subsequently went on to have an esophagectomy as a definitive treatment for the main problem of esophageal scarring, and is now on the long, but hopeful, road to recovery.

“Another patient, a young girl of 6 years old, had a severe burn of her hand. It went untreated, so that when she came to us at an outside hospital, her left hand was scarred and contracted, completely unusable. We took her to the operating room, removed the scarred tissue and released the contracted tendons, and applied a skin graft from her abdomen to allow the hand to heal naturally. We hope and trust she will have more normal use of her hand as she heals.”

Angola was a very challenging place to work for the Giles. However, they felt a deep sense of gratitude for the experience and would like to do more work like this in the future. “Our intent is to return to train local physicians to become competent medically and surgically, as it is relevant to them and the needs of their populace.”