Uganda Spine Surgery Mission: Back to Mbarara

Commitment despite challenges

For those who have followed previous missions and blogs, you will have read about the obstacles and frustrations of past Uganda Spine Surgery Missions. After the 2012 mission, I had doubts that I would ever come back to Uganda. As the months past I began feeling the guilt of not fulfilling my obligation to those that I have treated and those waiting for treatment. I very much struggled with the decision to return.

Back to Mbarara
After much deliberation, I elected to return to Mbarara. A small city in the southern reaches of Uganda where the mission all started. We visited there in 2006 and 2007. We did not return because the 300 km drive from Kampala to Mbarara was a life-threatening experience on an unpaved single lane road with two-way traffic of overloaded buses, cattle trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, and animals. I heard from the locals that the road was now paved and that a new hospital was built. With this information, my 2013 strategy was to assemble a smaller more mobile team and give the mission one more chance.

On arrival in Mbarara after the 5-hour drive, on a road that was surprisingly in good shape, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. A new hospital, with a 1500 square foot operating room, a fully equipped intensive care unit, a private in patient ward, and the smiles of my colleagues Dr. Deo and Dr. Emmanuel. It was a wonderful home coming, and instantaneously I knew it was going to be a tremendous mission.

The first day of clinic set the tone for the whole week
As each 18-hour day passed by there was a growing desire to do more. Over the next 7 days, we evaluated over 120 patients, performed 11 operations over 6 days, and triaged over 20 patients for surgery in 2014. This was by far the most productive and gratifying mission to date.

However, we must not forget, "TIA" (this is Africa)
We still had to endure the power failures, sterilization issues, ward conditions, and the lack of basic supplies. The difference this time was a glimpse into the future. The infrastructure of an operating room and intensive care unit came to fruition. The commitment from the Mbarara University and the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital is genuine. The ambition of the local surgeons and hospital staff is readily apparent. The need for spine care is relentless. Even with all this in mind there is no reason why the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital cannot become the pinnacle spine center in all of East Africa.

As it is credited to Rabbi Tarphon, "one is not obliged to completing the task of Tikun Olam (repairing the world), neither is one free to abandon it." With the success of the 2013 mission, I reaffirm my commitment to future missions. On behalf of the patients we treat, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the mission.

Learn more about the Uganda Spine Surgery Mission, read past trip reports, and view video.

Updated on: 02/23/17
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