April 2000 Bulletin

Two lives devoted to others

AAOS honors humanitarian service

By Carolyn Rogers

There are countless stories of the humanitarian efforts of orthopaedic surgeons. Every year, orthopaedists journey to far-away countries, taking their skills, compassion and boxes of medical equipment to primitive settings where they train physicians and care for local residents. Replacing pain with smiles, deformity with mobility, they return with an intangible wealth—the satisfaction of having helped others.

Others squeeze out a few hours from their private lives in clinics in this country caring for needy men, women and children. Still others raise funds and seek-out medical equipment for charitable hospitals in destitute nations or provide uncompensated surgery for someone in need.

They provide incalculable good and receive in return the gratefulness in the shining eyes of their patients.

To honor the outstanding humanitarian efforts of orthopaedic surgeons, AAOS has established annual Humanitarian awards. The first awards, presented at the Annual Meeting in March, went Charles H. Epps Jr., MD, for work in the United States and C. Scott Harrison, MD, for work abroad.

Dr. Epps, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Howard University, Washington, D.C., has trained more than 4,000 African American and minority medical students and 70 orthopaedic residents since 1961. He was the Dean of Howard University’s College of Medicine for six years and program director of the minority residency program for 24 years. Dr. Epps has continued to serve as a role model, mentor and advisor for minority men and women orthopaedic surgeons, regardless of where they have trained.

"As a minority myself, I learned early-on the importance of hard work and the importance of education," Dr. Epps says. "Although I grew up in Maryland—a border state—I experienced segregation and discrimination from as early as childhood. But I was fortunate enough to get a good education that prepared me for medical school. Then, I developed an interest in teaching and the rest came naturally.

"With Howard University as my academic home throughout my career, there were many opportunities to mentor young minority men and women who wanted careers in medicine and orthopaedic surgery. Having had to overcome obstacles myself, it prepared me to be in a position to help others."

At D.C. General Hospital, Dr. Epps provided orthopaedic care to thousands of children with complex orthopaedic problems. There, he established and served as chief of the country’s only free, regional, multidisciplinary crippled children’s program for limb-deficient children. For 38 years he provided counseling and treatment for about 1,000 children with congenital and acquired amputations. Dr. Epps’ private practice, located in inner city Washington, DC, has included many patients who had limited funds to pay for services. Howard University Hospital, his primary site of practice and training, is a major provider of uncompensated care in Washington, DC.

"It has been rewarding to observe and assist many patients from the Handicapped and Crippled Childrens’ Program seek higher education and become independent, employed citizens," Dr Epps says. "And many of them have chosen health care careers."

As an advocate for services for the disabled, Dr. Epps has provided testimony before the D.C. City Council and the U.S. Congress and helped to establish a need for a rehabilitation hospital in Washington, D.C. He became a founding director of the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Washington, DC. His involvement continued for 13 years, during which time the NRH has become a major regional resource.

When asked what motivates him, Dr. Epps responds, "As a physician, there are rewards that you get from patient contact that I think are unparalleled. It’s a chance to do something significant for another human being on a personal level, and you do it many times a day, and thousands of times in a lifetime. I think that’s what makes medicine so rewarding as a life’s work."

Dr. Epps’ volunteer activities include answering emergency calls to area newborn nurseries to counsel parents after birth of limb deficient infants, and performing physical examinations on underprivileged youths. One of his current activities is volunteering with D.C. Habitat for Humanity. In addition to helping build houses for low-income citizens, he serves as faulty adviser for the Howard University Student Habitat Chapter.

Dr. Epps has been a member of the national board of directors for the World Rehabilitation Fund, Inc., since 1998. The group provides prosthetic and orthotic devices to patients in developing countries. Many of the patients are victims of land mines and other atrocities of war.

C. Scott Harrison, MD, Harrisburg, Pa., began his Third World orthopaedic work in 1966, working at a leprosarium while stationed in Vietnam. Later, he worked with Orthopaedics Overseas in Malawi and in the Transkei in Africa. After visiting and performing short-term humanitarian work in Africa for more than a dozen years, Dr. Harrison began the Crippled Children’s United Rehabilitation Effort (CCURE) in 1996. The nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization is dedicated to bringing First World level rehabilitative care (circa 1985) to the disabled children of the Third World.

With funds primarily supplied by Dr. Harrison and his wife, CCURE’s first hospital opened in Kijabe, outside of Nairobi, in May of 1998. Bethany’s Crippled Children’s Centre of Kenya—a 32-bed hospital—achieved full occupancy shortly after opening. To date, comprehensive rehabilitative care has been provided to more than 7,000 children with more than 2,000 surgical procedures performed. Physical therapy and bracing, as indicated, have augmented the surgical care.

CCURE continues to be the primary source of funds for the ongoing operations of the hospital, supplying approximately 60 percent of the funds. A network of 22 rural healthcare clinics has been established to service all but the coastal area of Kenya, so that an estimated 750,000 children with disabilities now have access to care regardless of ability to pay.

In partnership with a German mission organization, CCURE is completing the construction of a 60-bed facility in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A third hospital in Mbale, Uganda, has completed its first phase of construction. Although the 40-bed hospital will not be complete until this fall, care is already being provided there. This location provides care for a population of 7 million.

"Fully as important is that we have been able the recruit nationals in each country to work in the hospitals, " Dr. Harrison says.

CCURE also plans to develop hospitals in Vietnam, Malawi and the Republic of Congo. CCURE has spent more than $2.5 million for the care of disabled children in the Third World.

Dr. Harrison is especially pleased that the AAOS humanitarian award will raise CCURE’s visibility. "This award will help a lot of children because it means more people will join us," Dr. Harrison says. "We’ve already had some short-term orthopaedic stays and I know how much it’s meant to those people. I’m looking forward to having others share as well."

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