Orthopaedic surgeons: Going beyond the call
By Carolyn Rogers
Many orthopaedists go above and beyond the call of duty every day—reaching out to others and using their skills to help the disadvantaged, whether those “in need” live down the road, across the state line or on the other side of the world.
Some journey to far-off countries, taking their skills and compassion to impoverished lands where they train local doctors and care for the needy. Others squeeze a few hours from their limited private time to care for underprivileged men, women and children at local clinics. Still others raise funds and seek out medical equipment for charitable hospitals in destitute nations or provide uncompensated surgery for someone in need.
Each year, the Academy honors one of these compassionate physicians with the AAOS Humanitarian Award. Too many others, however, go unrecognized. This article—the first in an ongoing series—shines the spotlight on three orthopaedic surgeons whose generosity of time, talent and spirit has improved and enriched the lives of countless people across the world.
Timothy C. Mead, MD
In 1998, Timothy C. Mead, MD, left a successful pediatric orthopaedic practice in Michigan to devote his education, skills, talents and resources to some of the poorest, most disabled children in Africa.
Nearly 10 years later, Dr. Mead and his wife, Jana, remain in Kenya.
Timothy C. Mead, MD
Dr. Mead serves as medical director at CURE International’s Bethany Crippled Children’s Centre (BCCC) in Kijabe, Kenya—about 50 km. west of Nairobi. CURE is a nonprofit organization that establishes and operates teaching hospitals in the developing world for the physical and spiritual healing of disabled children and their families.
“Dr. Mead’s dedication to caring for the physical needs of children in Kenya is equaled only by his commitment to teaching modern medical techniques to indigenous doctors—enabling and ennobling them as a positive force in their country,” says orthopaedic surgeon C. Scott Harrison, MD, founder of CURE International and recipient of the first AAOS Humanitarian Award.
When BCCC first opened in May 1998, there were no children’s hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa dedicated to disabled children, and no trained pediatric orthopaedic nationals in Kenya—a country of 32.5 million people, including 765,000 disabled children.
Since Dr. Mead’s arrival, nearly 50,000 patients have been evaluated and more than 15,000 surgeries performed under his leadership. Disorders treated at Bethany include club foot, polio, cerebral palsy, burn contracture, muscular dystrophy, scoliosis, syndactyly, cleft lip and cleft palate.
Dr. Mead and his medical team also hold mobile clinics in remote areas to see children who would never be treated otherwise.
One recent clinic was held in Kitale, a small town about a 6½-hour drive from the hospital. On arrival, they were greeted by more than 150 children and their families, many of whom had traveled great distances for evaluation or follow-up at the clinic. About 75 children were scheduled for surgery—many for multiple procedures, including “Kitale clubfeet” (describes the severe deformity found in neglected older children), burns, congenital problems and crooked limbs.
When Dr. Mead and his team first launched the clinics, they treated about 30 children each time. But word spread and the numbers continue to grow.
Training local doctors, caregivers is key
In addition to treating children, Dr. Mead also trains local Kenyans in the care of the disabled. To increase the number of Kenyan orthopaedists, CURE partnered with the Kenyan government to develop a formal training and degree program for national doctors working in CURE hospitals and other medical facilities.
In October 2003, Dr. Joseph Theuri joined Dr. Mead as an orthopaedic partner—the first Kenyan to train at BCCC and return there to work as an orthopaedic surgeon. Two other Kenyans trained by Dr. Mead now work as orthopaedic surgeons in Kampala, Uganda, and two more are currently in training.
“Although the number of trained orthopaedic surgeons is not large, there would be none if not for Dr. Mead and CURE,” says Dr. Harrison. “Thousands of children will lead productive lives because of Tim’s compassionate nature and excellent skills.”
Dr. Mead is provided with a living allowance, raised by donations from friends and supporters, but receives no direct payment for his work.
“Dr. Cobey has dedicated his life to serving his fellow man literally all over the world—from Haiti to Cambodia to South Africa and to Gaza,” says Charles H. Epps, Jr., MD.
Dr. Cobey began his volunteer work as a medical student and has continued it through his residency and as a practicing orthopaedic surgeon. He repeatedly takes time from his busy private practice in Washington, D.C, to work with volunteer organizations both “in the trenches” and in leadership roles.
James C. Cobey, MD, MPH
His commitment to international social activism began in the 1960s, when he worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip providing refugee care. He also studied the effectiveness of primary health care centers in western Nigeria, and worked extensively in northern Haiti developing public health programs. While working with the Red Cross in the 1970s, he coordinated overall disaster relief and medical care at one of the largest refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border.
In 1981, Dr. Cobey revitalized the Orthopaedics Overseas program, which later expanded to become Health Volunteers Overseas—an organization that sends medical teams to more than 20 developing countries to provide training and education to local health care providers.
A decade later, Dr. Cobey conducted the first epidemiological study of land-mine injuries among Cambodia’s civilian population. Working with Physicians for Human Rights,
Dr. Cobey spent five “miserably hot” weeks walking through the edges of Cambodian mine fields to collect much-needed data on land-mine injuries from small surgical hospitals.
He found that one out of every 235 people in Cambodia was missing a limb due to land-mine injuries, and one-half of all war wounds were caused by mines.
This research helped galvanize support for a ban on land mines and led to the creation of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)—a group responsible for the creation of a treaty calling for the destruction of stockpiled mines. Because of his close involvement in this effort,
Dr. Cobey joined several dozen other ICBL members in Stockholm in 1997, where ICBL and its campaign coordinator were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In October 2000, Dr. Cobey worked in the Middle East during the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, again under the auspices of Physicians for Human Rights. His job was to determine whether or not human rights were being abused in certain cases.
In addition to his extensive work with humanitarian groups, “Dr. Cobey also offers his professional care at no expense to recent indigent immigrants who have no access to critically needed medical care,” says Paul E. Hughes, MD.
“Dr. Cobey’s life and work exemplify the true essence of humanitarianism and volunteerism,” says Dr. Epps.
Sylvanus O. Amaechi, MD, MS
Orthopaedic surgeon Sylvanus O. Amaechi, MD, MS, has devoted much of the last three decades to providing desperately needed medical services to severely deformed children from poor and rural communities in Nigeria.
In 1964, he left his native home of Emekuku, Nigeria, to earn his medical degree in Europe. His studies took him throughout Europe, Russia, Canada and the United States. Ten years later—after completing his orthopaedic training—
Dr. Amaechi abandoned the lucrative allure of America and Europe and returned to his homeland.
Yet instead of moving to the large, booming city of Lagos—where patients were wealthy and plentiful—he stunned his colleagues by settling in the extremely poor, rural community of Egbu, Owerri.
“Dr. Amaechi took an enormous risk in turning his back on a secure and comfortable government employment,” says
Dr. C.B Eze, chief consultant orthopaedic surgeon at National Orthopaedic Hospital in Enugu, Nigeria. “He could have been the chief medical director of any teaching hospital in the country.”
Christina Specialist Hospital
But Dr. Amaechi had a reason.
“In a society like ours, where the government and the rich don’t care for the poor, I was committed to improving the lives of less privileged children and others through my work as an orthopaedic practitioner,” he says.
It was “a moment of triumph and fulfillment,” therefore, when he founded Christina Specialist Hospital (CSH) in Egbu in 1984—with the assistance of his Dutch wife and a few friends.
By locating his hospital in one of the poorest areas of Nigeria, “the sick and needy of Imo State now have easy and free access to specialized medical treatment,” he says. The 150-bed hospital boasts modern equipment and facilities, departments of trauma, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN and neurosurgery, as well as a dedicated, competent staff.
Operations that once could only be done abroad are now regularly performed at Christina. In collaboration with missionaries and nongovernmental organizations, CSH has treated many complicated cases successfully and free of charge.
“Cases that are too difficult for specialists in government-owned hospitals and other centers are referred to
Dr. Amaechi’s hospital,” reports Dr. Eze.
Now the largest privately owned orthopaedic hospital in Nigeria, CSH also seeks to educate the population through HIV/AIDS information campaigns, free HIV testing, and programs promoting prenatal care and immunization of infants.
The hospital provides another much-needed service to the community—employment. At any given time, CSH employs no fewer than 300 local doctors, nurses, lab technicians, administrators, cooks and others—making it Imo State’s largest employer outside of the government.
“By employing qualified surgeons and numerous other staff in his hospital, Dr. Amaechi has helped the government combat unemployment, and potentially saved thousands of Nigerians—dependents of his staff—from starvation,” says Dr. Eze.
“Father” of the NOA
Viewed as the “father” of the Nigerian Orthopaedic Association (NOA), Dr. Amaechi was instrumental in establishing NOA 27 years ago and recently served two terms as its president. In this role, his emphasis on training and retraining orthopaedic surgeons rekindled members’ interest in the organization.
“When he took over as president, his charismatic leadership encouraged and fired the zeal of young orthopaedists,” says Dr. Eze. “By making himself the rallying point for orthopaedic surgeons in Nigeria, Dr. Amaechi has elevated the practice of orthopaedics in our country.”
Making children whole
Without Dr. Amaechi’s assistance, the poor and often orphaned children in his care would likely never receive treatment for their severe deformities. In addition to this life-changing medical care, Dr. Amaechi helps many of his young patients improve their lives with regular assistance through scholarship awards.
Dr. Amaechi’s humanitarian work has been recognized with numerous commendations and awards from institutions, charitable organizations and his local community.