CRISIS IS OPPORTUNITY:The State of Breast Cancer Care in China

 

Shanghai China

 Crisis is Opportunity

I had the great fortune to be asked to write the introduction for my dear friend Susan Apollon’s new book An Inside Job: Healing Wisdom for your Cancer Journey. I was able to read this amazing manuscript on my recent flight to Shanghai China. She talks in the book about the irony that in the Chinese characters for “Crisis” and “Opportunity” share a symbol. I have always believe that through adversity we have the opportunity to grow spiritually and apparently the Chinese are in agreement.

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Four hours after take off from Newark, NJ the wheels of United Airlines Flight 86 touched down at Pudong International Airport Shanghai China. I left the USA on a Wednesday at eleven AM and touched down in China 14 hours later Thursday at 2:30 PM. Fast way to lose a day. I awoke half way through the flight and checked our flight path to find that we were over the northern most regions of Russia and the temperature outside was -90 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time I opened my IPad to snap a pic the temperature increased by a whole degree. We flew over the Arctic Circle who knew?

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The 13th Chinese Breast Cancer Conference and The 9th Shanghai International Breast Cancer Symposium took place over a three-day period. There were in excess of two thousand breast cancer physicians in attendance. I was honored and humbled to be one of several invited speakers from around the world. I was quite surprised to find that minimally invasive biopsies for diagnosis and treatment of breast disease were not the standard of care in China. It has been over 6 years that I have given a lecture specifically on the benefits of vacuum assisted biopsy to diagnose breast cancer.

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If your eyes are really good you can read my name on the main event roster!

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I was one of a handful of speakers from the “West” our names are obvious

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2000 Chinese Breast Cancer Physicians in Shanghai China

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I met my interpreter the evening before my talk, as she would have to know what I was going to say to simultaneously translate during the conference. On my last trip to Beijing China in May, I lectured on the technique of nipple sparing mastectomies. I would speak and then wait for the translation live that was done by a Chinese surgeon. That method required me to speak slowly in complete sentences and not use any slang!

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My lecture for this conference was on minimally invasive vacuum assisted biopsy to diagnose breast cancer. This is a technique that has been the standard of care in the USA for the last 10-15 years.

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The incidence of breast cancer is on the rise globally particularly in recently industrialized nations. China has one of the fastest growing breast cancer rates. The western diet and “western ways” are thought to be the major part of the problem. Chinese women are also delaying child baring, have higher incidence of abortions as there is a limit to the number of children that they can have and the out of control pollution are all felt to play their part. That being said, women are still taken to the operating room to make the diagnosis of breast cancer for the most part. With the numbers of breast cancers on the rise, the shift to minimally invasive biopsies seems imminent.

The dynamics of the conference itself was interesting in comparison with conferences in the USA. The room was jam-packed with attentive eager to learn physicians waiting to ingest the latest information and cutting edge treatments from around the world. I think that I was the only blonde at the entire conference so I stuck out like a sore thumb.

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The meeting ran from 8 AM to 12 noon breaking only briefly for lunch and resumed at 1 PM and ended at 6 PM. The audience was glued to their seats not wanting to miss a morsel of information being shared from around the world. I have to admit that the lectures given in Chinese, i.e. the majority of them were difficult to comprehend, but I was amazed at the amount of information I could surmise from the slides alone with the disease free survival curves and overall survival curves being the easy ones to understand.

Dr. Robert Carlson, the head of the NCCN, National Comprehensive Cancer Network, spoke about the recent changes in the guidelines in the hour before my lecture. His content was a great transition into minimally invasive biopsies for cancer diagnosis as it is one of the quality standards in the USA for attaining accreditation from the NAPBC (National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers). It was during his lecture that I realized that they were doing real-time interpretation. Suddenly my lecture seemed short, as I had planned the half hour to include the translation time. Fear not, as I can always elaborate on any topic and I would also have time for questions.

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I remembered to speak slowly and in simple sentences so that my Chinese surgical oncology fellow, my interpreter, could easily translate in real time. That means that she has to listen, interpret and as she is speaking listen for the next thought process, clearly she drew the short straw getting this gig. (We traveled to Russia a few years ago and our tour guides were two neurosurgery fellows. My husband, Joe, joked with them, “ So who did you bump off that you are stuck being our tour guides!” They didn’t understand his humor and as it turns out, being the tour guide to the visiting surgeon from the USA was an honor for them!)

The lecture went well from my perspective and there were several excellent questions so I know that al least three people understood what I was trying to get across to the conference. Performing minimally invasive biopsies, with ultrasound, stereotactic or MRI guidance, is the standard of care in the USA and allows us to obtain a diagnosis and construct a treatment plan with out patients. We use vacuum assisted biopsies (www.mammotome.com ) to accomplish accurate minimally invasive diagnosis so that we can create a care plan to treat our patient’s cancers.

I am hopeful that my lecture will open the door for positive change in a country that is facing a breast cancer “crisis” as the average of a woman obtaining a diagnosis of breast cancer in China is 10 years younger than in the USA. China does not have wide spread screening to date and that is another opportunity for early detection.

There was a time in the not too distant past that being a woman in Asia conferred a benefit as they had a low incidence of breast cancer. There are several theories as to why the shift in incidence and why the lower age at diagnosis. The Western influence has had its blessings and curses. (I would like to think that my trip and educational opportunity is a blessing and not a curse)

In a 2001 lecture from The University of Pittsburgh

Jesse Huang, MD, MHPE, MPH, MBA黄建始

Professor of Epidemiology

Assistant President
Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences

Peking Union Medical College Medical Center of Qing Hua University

Presented an overview of proposed causes of this shift.

Breast Cancer in China

  • Breast Cancer in China is increasing rapidly
  • This increase resulted mainly from metropolitan female at reproductive age
  • Highest risk age group at 40-49, which is earlier than that in developed countries (50-79 yrs)
  • Highest risk (40-49) age group’s characteristics:
  • High educational level
  • Engaging in scientific research
  • Depression
  • High BMI
  • High protein intake
  • Disharmonious marital life/divorce
  • Induced abortion
  • Late age at first pregnancy
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Lack of lactation
  • Benign breast disease
  • Family history of BC
  • Late menopause
  • Passive smoking

Many of these factors are modifiable and should be a lesson to the entire world. Since China jumped so rapidly in breast cancer incidence and lifestyle and gestational history are huge factors, we should take notice and begin to truly embrace lifestyle modification around the world before breast cancer becomes an epidemic.

Traveling to China this year has been amazing!

The culture of Asia, the hospitality of the people, the history a nation and breathtaking sites were worth every second of travel.  Being able to potentially influence breast care in China is PRICELESS! 

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FOcal Point of the Shanghai Evening Skyline

The TV Tower

The Breast Cancer Crisis is our Opportunity to change the factors in our lives and the lives of young women around the world that are modifiable.

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  • Regular exercise is essential to maintain our breast health and overall health (3-5 hours per week)
  • Nutrition is key and we are what we eat ( viverhealth.com)
  • Maintain a healthy BMI ~25 (lean muscle mass matters)
  • Young women should limit alcohol before their first pregnancy
  • Alcohol in moderation after childbearing
  • Do not delay childbearing
  • Breast feed
  • Meditation and stress reduction
  • Obtain adequate sleep

Be aware of your personal and family risk factors.

Traveling to China this year has been amazing

But when it comes to HealthCare

THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

God Bless Americagiphy

Double Harvest Sewing Seeds of Life

“MAN DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE” Luke 4:4

At Double Harvest Haiti, Blue Sky Surgical was able to find a home in Haiti.

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The Medical Clinic

Sowing seeds

Signed by the TEAMS that have come before us

There are 64 individual stories that I could share about the people we operated upon. Each individuals journey is compelling and many stories are heart wrenching. For each of the people who were fortunate enough to have surgery this week whether life saving or life changing, there were countless others that we evaluated that we were unable to help.

The children we could not help

A young boy with a cutaneous venous malformation that we are unable to remove.

A tongue issue we could not help

A young child with a cyst of the tongue

Some surgeries were beyond our capabilities and others were ones that require surgical sub-specialties that may come to Double Harvest in the future. It still breaks my heart when we had to turn them away. We can tried to arrange for an evaluation with a team of specialists in the future.

There is always hope and it is so beautifully illustrated but the story of Daniel Smith. Tony created opportunities for Daniel’s life to change in a way that he never thought possible. Daniel is the future of Haiti, he just needed the helping (healing) hand from his USA family. He visited Dr. Tony this week as Tony has changed the course of Daniels life for ever.

You can read about his journey in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Daniel before his jaw surgery

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Daniel after surgery and his guardian angel Dr. Tony
Making a difference one patient at a time

It is the demeanor of the Haitians that is so special. Their eyes are soulful and with a simple glance, they can see directly into your soul.

Our patients may have been monetarily or materially poor, but they are all spiritually wealthy beyond belief. Over and over again this week patients would awaken from anesthesia and say  “May God Bless you and your TEAM”, “ May God bless your hands” and they truly meant it.

 Just take a look at a snapshot of the amazing people of Haiti.

A happy patient Heria patient who spent the night Showering in the street USA preop Dress in her best fro surgery Strabismus family cindy loo hoo Soulful Eyes tude Darius  Balance A different kind of balance in their life Yvons brother visits

For those of you have never received an email from me then you do not know my favorite quote. For those of you who do receive emails then bare with me again.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” Gandhi

Our future is in the hands of our youth

DrPeter

Dr. Peter Pierrot

Our future

Cate , Craig and Dean

Service is something that many individuals begin late in life. Cal sat in the “circle of trust” meeting our last evening and said that he had wished he had started serving earlier in life. I believe he served our country when he served in the military. (Although it was his job at the time, he chose to protect and serve our nation.)  He was particularly touched by his logistics work with Dean and Craig and the medical service of Cate and Dr. Peter. He sees  our youth as the future of change for Haiti and the world. (He loves the rest of us a respects our service, but he knows that serving on our surgical mission trip in Haiti is Life changing for our children )

Dean the man of few words

The earlier we engage our children  and help them to understand that we are all connected as souls on this journey of life traveling together, the earlier they will see what it means to serve. Despite living in different countries with different backgrounds we are all connected. In the USA we are blessed to be living in a country where you can receive treatment for an incarcerated hernia regardless of your ability to pay just by showing up in an emergency room. Remember Dr. Coletta’s first day in Haiti.  Tony, having been in the right place at the right time, kept a woman and her five children from being fatherless. (I call that divine intervention)

I feel blessed that Tony invited me to share in his passion for Haiti. I know that it was very hard for him to trust anyone else with the surgical care of the people that he loves so dearly.  My life, as well as all of my TEAM members lives, are richer because of these mission trips. Now my youngest son’s life will be forever changed. It is hard to believe that this years trip was more than last years trip, but we just keep working toward what Dr. Sauter has called HAITIAN SHIBUMI.

The seamless perfection of care for those in need

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THERE IS NO I IN TEAM

I wish I could report that our trip home was uneventful, but it was not to be so. On our flight from Port au Prince to Miami, there was a call for medical professionals. Simultaneously Tony, John, myself and another surgeon rang our call bells. An elderly gentle man with known end stage cancer arrested in the bathroom. Unfortunately despite our collective best efforts, he passed over into spirit. His wife and daughter were with him on the plane.

It was a vivid reminder that every moment in life is precious and we all need to remember this one small detail.

Be present in the moment as that is what you are guaranteed, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

We can change the world one person at a time.

Peter and our three young TEAM members are our future. The seasoned veterans will all return to Haiti when we can.

 “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”

Ghandi

Be the change

The necklace that I wore on our mission trip and the motto I live by!

Your passion my not take you to Haiti or even outside of your community. The reality is that you have a choice. You can be part of the problem or become part of the “SOULtion”.

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life,

It’s about what you INSPIRE others to do”

If you want to support our effort you can reach out to me at dupreehealingdoc@aol.com and I will let you know how you can support our future efforts

My hope is that Blue Sky Surgical mission trip Inspires you to make a difference in the world.

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BLUE SKY SURGICAL
Our gift from God on our uneventful flight from Miami to Philadelphia

Sante se Richess “Our Health is our Greatest of Wealth”

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Blue Sky Surgical has had an amazing week. 19 individuals came together with their new Haitian family of health care providers to care for so many men, women and children in need. We completed our week of 64 surgeries and countless clinic evaluations and we have all changed from the experience in a positive way.

Let me share want a typical day looks like. for Blue Sky Surgical.  For the DuPree family, it was a 5:45 wake up and out the door at 6 for a workout.  We always paused to watch the sunrise as best part of the AM workout is being up to watch the spectacular event.

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Dean is training for winter track Pennsylvania State Championships. <Last year they took silver in the distance medley relay and they are going back to run the same race again> Dean would alternate sprint workouts with plyometric exercises. . Hopefully Mr. Rodgers, his coach, will see this BLOG to realize his level of commitment. ( Mr. Rob Rodger’s sister is Deb our nurse anesthetist’s best friend!)

6:40 Morning Devotional

Every morning at 6:40 the locals would congregate at the clinic and there would be a speaker and singing. Although we could not always tell what they were saying, we could all feel the energy that came from their songs.

Breakfast was served at 7 AM. It was always an adventure and the best mornings were the ones where we cooked with the Haitian cooks. These women put such love into our food that nourished our hearts and so many carbohydrates into our diet that went right to our butts!

Milk in the paint can

The Milk was fresh from the cow, Brought to us in an plastic acrylic paint bucket!
That’s ORGANIC!

Our cooks

Our beautiful cooks

On Friday February 14 as we were all remembering to call and text our significant others, we celebrated the birthday of our Haitian interpreter and guide Pierre.

Waiting to be seen

Patients in the USA would not have the patience to sit i the hall and wait to be seen. Sometimes for hours!

By 730 we were headed down the stairs to the clinic or to the OR begin our day of surgery.

My Haitian office

Our office

Tony and I would alternate between the OR and the clinic. Shashi just kept operating all day long.

Tina and Elsie were an amazing TEAM. There was no us or them just WE!

TEAM work

The nurses would prep the patients in the PACU( post anesthesia care unit) and we were off to our day of surgery. They would prepare the patients with IV’s and fluids, check the charts and keep the schedule moving. They were priceless.
Dean and Craig at our service

Dean and Craig at our service

The Logistics guys were everywhere and anywhere they needed to be. They cleaned sterilized instruments. The packaged the appropriate insturments we needed for our cases. The moved the patients from the OR to the PACU. TRANSPORTATION was key. They cleaned the floors and when they weren’t doing that they were making a birthday candle for Pierre’s birthday cake! With Cal as their leader, they were a finely oiled machine. One of Cal’s favorite activities of the day was spending time with the locals.

Grandpa Cal

Cal and his new friend

Shashi had room #2 as his room and we tried to get the little children taken care of first so that they did not have to wait all day without eating and drinking. There was one small child, no more than 2 years old who had a hernia repair on our last day. When I came out between cases, I saw him asleep in what I thought was his mother’s arms.

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Yvon then told me that it was his sister holding him as they both slept.

Yvon  shared their story.  Their mother had died this past  September. My heart gasped and my eyes filled with tears as I looked at them nestled in the chair. She was so protective of her little brother. Their father and the oldest daughter, unfortunately without their mother, were raising these 10 children.

            Her eyes speak volumes

Sister and son

Her soulful eyes

Every single person we cared for had a story and I learned each and every one of their stories that I could!

We had both OR’s running all day long and Tony spent this morning in clinic adding on cases were the children were NPO.  (remember nothing by mouth after midnight). My room had completed 5 cases by 11:30 and Shashi was on his 5th case as well.

My 5th case today was a simple lipoma, benign tumor of fat, on a gentleman’s forehead. The gentleman spoke minimal English and required Manny to translate during the beginning of anesthesia.

Jesus savior

Molly and our messenger from God

Jesus

Mr Messenger

During induction of anesthesia , after the entire syringe of Propofol ( medicine that gives you amnesia and puts you to sleep very quickly) we had an amazing experience. The patient looked at Deb, the nurse anesthetist, and said to us in perfect English “ Jesus is in the room ” We were all taken aback. He then said “The Lord our Shepard is watching over us”. I had goose bumps, as did our entire team. We were in a state of disbelief as his English was flawless, his message profound, and he had enough of the medicine in his system to put him to sleep quickly. Dr. Sauter thought that we made up the story, but as you may be aware truth is often stranger than fiction.

Watching over us

Jesus watching over us

He asked for the name s of all of our team so that he could pray for us daily! WE SAID YES!

Darius, Beth ad Marjorie

Darius, Beth ad Marjorie

After this case, I went to clinic with our nurse Beth to see Marjorie the 39 year old mother of 5 children who had had modified radical mastectomy three

days earlier. She came to the clinic with her husband to have her drains removed. She brought her youngest son Darius with her. I looked at this child and quickly realized that she had gotten pregnant almost immediately after her lumpectomy in Feb of 2012. So not only did she not have the opportunity to have chemotherapy and radiation therapy, she had an estrogen storm from her pregnancy. Beth was there to hold her hand as I removed the drains and she saw her chest wall without her breast for the first time. It saddened me that I did not have a post surgical bra and prosthesis for her at this moment as she would have to wait until I can send them back to her in the appropriate size. She did very well with this visit despite the realization that her breast was gone.

LOTS OF LOVE

LOTS OF LOVE

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Marjorie told us that she wanted to have her baby Darius rebaptized with “Tony”in his name. I think that’s the greatest thank you ever.

I hugged her goodbye until next year and made arrangements for her to return to see Dr. Peter and continue to take her Tamoxifen. I returned to the OR and was quickly summoned to go out to the street and meet her 5 children who she had brought along to meet me. She wanted me to know why she had to be OK.

Marjorie and Dean

Marjorie and Dean

Her children needed her and the surgery we performed and the Tamoxifen that was donated by Holy Redeemer are the one shot that she has. So Dr. Tony’s intervention two years ago and his insistence of continuity of care and his follow through with pathology and getting her back for follow up were instrumental in her getting her to us to perform her surgery.

The family!

The family!

I left this beautiful 39 year-old woman to operate on my 93-year-old gentleman who too had breast cancer. They were of the extremes in age and sex but both had breast cancer. This gentle soul has high blood pressure, and no funds to buy the medications to lower it. Dr. Sauter saw him on Tuesday and Dr. Peter gave him the medication to take for a few days to optimize him for surgery.

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93 yo Felix looking good one hour after surgery.

He was clearly our highest risk patient of the week, but he clearly had angels as he walked out to the “bus stop” just 2 hours after his lumpectomy. What we were able to do for him was to remove the tumor so it would not erode through his skin and stop the pain he was having from its connection to his chest wall muscle. One patient at a time we were making a difference.

Feliz at the bus stop we hore

Felix and his daughter waiting for transportation with Barb. She would have followed him home to make certain he was OK!

Dr. Shashi and Tony were busy repairing children’s hernias. The faces of those we cared for were priceless and all we needed to know that we are doing God’s work. Having a pediatric surgeon along was a gift for the Haitian’s that Tony was able to provide. On our last trip we performed 17 pediatric cases, therefore we knew there was a need. Shashi rocks!

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Pre op

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Post op

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We closed up the OR with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and some sadness for leaving Haiti. We all shared a sense of peace as we had found a new home for Blue Sky Surgical TEAM.Under Dr. Anthony Coletta’s leadership, I an certain that we will continue to change lives one at a time. Not only is Tony changing healthcare in America, he is changing health care globally.

The members from Holy Redeemer ( missing from this picture are Randie Oberlander, Joe Benonis, Mike Laign and all of the other individuals who helped make our trip happen.

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Dr Beth, Dean DuPree, Craig Bunting, Dr Shashi and Dr. Tony ( now with IBC but still part of our family)

Mainline Health System ( missing are all of those individuals that donated the time and materials form Lankenau and Bryn Mawr Hospitals as well as United Anesthesia Services)

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Yvon, Deb, Cate, Leslie, Dr. Tony. Robin. Dr Sauter andBarb

We found out an amazing synchronicity on the last day. Shashi had actually performed a hernia surgery on Craig when he was six!

Craigs hernia

Shashi and Craig
His incision has healed 16 years later!

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Our workday was done and we joined each other on the roof, aka our Haitian beach, to laugh, share stories and just be! Manny and I made homemade chips with my left over corn tortillas and we a version of happy hour on the roof.

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Our final dinner was a absolute feast. I was a fly on the wall watching as they lovingly prepared our dinner. The cooks out did them selves with Haitian meatballs, fried chicken, rice and beans (who knew there was garlic and cloves in there!), picklees (shredded cabbage and a lot of spice), Haitian macaroni and cheese, fried okra and fried bread fruit that tastes like a warm Philadelphia pretzels.

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Amazing Rice and Beans with homemade french fries

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We retired to the roof to watch the sunset as others packed for our return to the USA.

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Our fearless leader

We had our final evening 7 PM meeting where we shared stories of the day, concerns for the next day in the OR  and our last evening we shared hope for the future of our work at Double Harvest.

Yvon sleeping during our meeting

Yvon more than occasionally fell asleep when we were meeting.

surrounding our Haitian Dr Peter

The girls surrounding our Haitian Dr Peter

We talked to Dr. Peter Pierrot and Henry Peters, the missionary, who is one of the caretakers of the facility. We thanked Henry for giving us the insiders’ tour of Double Harvest including the Tilapia fish runways, The Hydroponic farming, the chickens for eating and laying eggs. (Deb didn’t know that they had different function)

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Henry Peters

The Diesel

The diesel tanks

The future fish

The Tilapia farm

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The beautifully manucured fields

The Eaters

The eating chickens

Hydroponics

The hydroponic farming

The Layers

The egg laying chickens

Crops

Plants ready for sale

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Tony talked about how proud of his TEAM of 19 ( he forgot to count himself) and how well we performed. This week, John taught us the term Shibumi, which means seamless perfection. It takes Shibumi to take 19 individuals who haven’t worked together in the OR and perform 64 surgeries in 5 days, without any complications. Under the leadership of Dr. Tony we all had something to be proud of. We laughed, we teared up and mostly we were filled with the joy in knowing that we had made a difference in so many lives.

TEAM BS ( Blue Sky!)

We talked about our future trips and having so many young TEAM members gives HOPE to Haiti.

Our Surrounding Community in Haiti

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The fresh water provided to the town by Double Harvest

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Deb and her little friend

 

The BANK

The Bank in the town

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Dean and his buddy from the town. He walked with Dean arm iin arm for the 45 minutes we were there. His left arm had to hold his pants up as they were several sizes too big

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This is the house of the man brings the steers outside of our compound daily

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The girls are so cute and loved hanging around with us

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Ivan made friends with this man and he invited us to see his house above

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Craig jammed in the church that lost it’s roof in the earthquake

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Dean’s buddy never left his side. They could not communicate with language but true friendship transcends that!

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The sunset sky

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Who would think that two strong willed surgeons could coexist and absolutely THRIVE in Haiti! WE can because we have the best TEAM

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Bedtime big day in the OR tomorrow

 

One patient at a Time

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So many of my friends and patients have asked me why I come on these trips. Several individuals have pointed out that the problems in Haiti are so massive that my individual efforts, all though admirable, can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the healthcare problems in Haiti.

My response: “ I can only take care of one patient at a time whether I am in the USA or Haiti. For that one patient, my being their surgeon, may change the course of their life. In Haiti it’s not that I am the surgeon that they choose, I am the chirijen ( that’s creole for surgeon)  that has been divinely guided to be in Haiti that  year, that month that week that moment. ”

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We have completed four days of successful surgery. As a TEAM, which we truly have become, we have completed over 43 surgeries, numerous minor procedures and I personally have seen more hemorrhoids than I even want to admit! <Did miss my breast patients back in PA after a half day in clinic seeing general surgery patients>. If you don’t know this fact, surgeons love to be in the OR and often just tolerate the clinic. My clinic, or office hours as I call them at Comprehensive Breast Care Surgeons at Holy Redeemer are a cake-walk compared to  the clinic in Haiti.

Let me introduce you to Marjorie

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She is a beautiful 39 year old Haitian woman who is a daughter, a wife and a mother. February of 2012, Dr. Tony performed and excisional biopsy of a left breast mass that turned out to be breast cancer. It was estrogen receptor positive. (We know this as Tony brought the specimen back to the USA for evaluation and that my friends is another customs story that is best told by Dr. Coletta himself)

Unfortunately, we were never able to get Tamoxifen, a medicine we give to treat estrogen receptor positive cancer, to her and therefore he breast cancer returned. ( Had she been treated in the USA she would have had her lymph-nodes sampled, had radiation therapy to her breast and would likely have had chemotherapy as well) She got the best care that she could with the resources that were available. Fast forward to 2014. Marjorie returned to see Dr. Coletta. Despite a change of clinic location by our team, she found him. Unfortunately her cancer recurred and she required a mastectomy. This news to this beautiful young woman was devastating. If we were n the USA, she would have access to reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. In Haiti she had Dr. Coletta and me to care for her. We scheduled her for surgery on Tuesday morning. She did not show initially at her planned time and I was concerned that she had backed out as the psychological trauma of the mastectomy may have been too much.

She showed up a little late and a little scared. Her surgery went off with out a hitch. Dr. Coletta, myself and Manny our PA were able to complete her surgery and have her safely returned to the PACU. Not even an hour after surgery, her husband came in to be with her and in English she said to me. “ That man he is my life!” Pretty nice thing to say about her husband! ( Possibly an early Valentine’s gesture)I am certain that this transition will be difficult for her, not having her breast, but she has her husband, family and children to support her. She also has Tamoxifen in her hands thanks to Randie from Holy Redeemer’s pharmacy!

We cooked breakfast fro her as she stayed the night and she loved the French toast and SPAM.

(Thanks to Dean we had 4 cans of SPAM and the team loved it)

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She came by the clinic this morning to say goodbye on her way home. She told me that she loved me and that she was so happy that I came to Haiti. I will see her tomorrow to remove her drains. Beth, our nurse who has also had a mastectomy,  will be with me when we take down her dressings and she sees what she looks like without her breast.  It is a difficult moment, but I am confident that Marjorie will be fine. I won’t goodbye just say see you next year.

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When I get back home, I will be securing enough Tamoxifen for the year,  breast prosthesis of the appropriate color and surgical bras for her. Dr. Peter will bring them back to Haiti fro her in a month. Marjorie’s story is just one individuals life that was greatly impacted by our TEAM.

 

One patient a time we are making a difference

MEET THE INDIVIDUALS WHO MAKE UP THE BLUE SKY SUGICAL TEAM

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Our team of eighteen have been  amazing. Seven in our group were here 18 months ago and we vowed to return. There were 7 of our 10 returning on this trip. (of the three that did not return, Flo had a baby, Diana had family commitments and Mike Coletta had the lame excuse that he couldn’t leave medical school for a week. Seriously!!)

Our fearless leader

Dr. Tony Coletta

Senior Vice President of Blue Cross

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Tony came to Haiti seven years ago having answered the call from his nursing colleague, Beth who happens to be with us on this trip. On his first day of his first trip, Tony had the great fortune of being able to change the course of a 55 yo mans life by repairing a hernia that was incarcerated. (meaning it was stuck and without surgery this man would have certainly died) An operation that in the USA anyone who presented to the emergency room regardless of their ability to pay, would have certainly been repaired as it is a surgical emergency. In Haiti this would have meant this man would have left his 5 children and wife prematurely. So from that day forward Dr. Tony has a bond with the Haitians that is palpable.

Cal James

Humana Regional VP provider development

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Cal had the great fortune to meet Tony when they were in a meeting of “the suits” at a leadership institute in California right when the earthquake hit. He was drawn to Tony’s passion for the Haitians and wanted desperately to go to Haiti with Tony immediately after the earthquake but lacked the proper vaccinations. Cal and Tony are the dynamic duo and make things happen. Cal is in charge of all things mechanical, the instruments, the air conditioning, the food for the team and most importantly patient transportation (inside joke for the team).

Cal is in charge of logistics and is Tony’s wingman. As a former military pilot he is the perfect wing man and has vowed to be with him on all of his future trips.

Dr. John Sauter

Anesthesiologist United Anesthesia Services

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John is another team leader and heads up our anesthesia department. He is an amazing anesthesiologist and has learned to do a lot with a little. He also is skilled at recruiting the right nurse anesthetists. John came to Haiti the first time with Tony just two months after the earthquake in March 2010. He had know Tony from Bryn Mawr and knew that he was a skilled surgeon and decided to answer a blast email from Tony who was looking for a team of skilled and passionate care providers. John has been here many times over the past 4 years and I am certain that this won’t be his last Haitian rodeo.

Dr Beth DuPree

Breast Surgeon Holy Redeemer Health System

With my beautiful patient Marjorie.

With my beautiful patient Marjorie.

I joined the Haitian surgical mission because I believe that making a difference one person at a time is a worthy cause. I came to Haiti 18 months ago and realized that Haiti has done more to enhance my life than I could ever do for the people of Haiti. The surgeries that we perform when we are here are often life changing for our patients and their gratitude and love is endless.

Dr Shashi Kumar

Pediatric Surgeon Surgical Services Holy Redeemer Health System

Shashi

Shashi is a retired pediatric surgeon who assists me in the OR at Holy Redeemer. He has been listening to me talk about Haiti fro the past 18 months and when the email went out to participate in this mission trip he was one of the first to commit and  has not looked back. He is a gentle soul who brought his skill, compassion and sense of humor with him and all of the team loves working with him. The children of Haiti are blessed to have him here. Me thinks he will be back!

 

 

Deb McTamney

Nurse Anesthetist United Anesthesia Services

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Deb told John Sauter that she was going on his next Haitian mission before he could even send an email looking for volunteers. She had always wanted to participate in a surgical mission and decided to answer John’s call and came on aboard. She was with us on our trip 18 months ago and it filled a piece of her heart and she returned this year with her skill and her passion. She found in serving the Haitian’s that a part of her that was missing had returned. She received more from the trip than she gave and will continue to return  on future mission trips. Deb is the hardest working anesthetist and has made difficult MAC cases run smoothly. (That means that patients aren’t asleep but receive sedation and local anesthesia). Deb exudes  Shibumi. (that stands for effortless perfection just incase ya didn’t know what it meant)

Leslie Edwards

Nurse Anesthethetist  United Anesthesia Services

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Leslie received John’s email and immediately asked her hubby of he minded if she took a week to go to Haiti to perform surgery on those in need. He said sure and that was it, she  was on her way. She is a skilled anesthetist who is easy to work with a total team player. You cannot tell that this is her first surgical mission!

Barb Thompson

PACU nurse from Bryn Mawr

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Barb is a seasoned PACU nurse who’s children had reached and age where she was able to look outside of her family to make a difference in the world.  She had known Dr. Coletta for years and knew that he was an excellent surgeon, but she says that something changed in him after his first trip to Haiti.  It wasn’t just a sense of humility that she saw, it was a sense of purpose for something bigger. She knew she needs to be a part of the mission trips and has been on 5 trips including this one. She was my pre-trip partner in crime as we worked to make certain that we had obtained all of the supplies we needed to be successful in Haiti. The minute you meet her you feel as if you have known her FOREVER>

Beth Johnson

OR nurse who is now in the business of developing surgi-centers.

(she’s the one who asked Tony to Haiti for the first time so THANK YOU BETHY!)

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Beth has been coming to Haiti for more than 11 years and has participated in 9 surgical missions. She began her trips to Haiti with her church and answered the call to serve as the amazing healthcare worker that she is. Beth continues to return as each experience is unique and she is  able to impact so many lives. On this trip, she was so brave and bold as she helped our 38 yo patient who required a mastectomy. Beth had the great fortune to be treated for breast cancer in the USA where she was able to have reconstructive surgery. She helped Marjorie to begin her healing journey by showing her what the mastectomy scar looks like and giving her hope to go on. Beth has a tremendous faith and told Marjorie to be strong for her children as they need her. Beth is a survivor, THRIVER extraordinaire and she reminds me so much of my Donna in my office who is also an amazing survivor / THRIVER. They share the same MOJO!

Robin Nelson

OR nurse Lankenau Hospital

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Robin is a piece of work. She tells it like it is but is hard as a nut on the outside but is soft and squishy on the inside. Her HEART is huge and she brings her A game to the OR. Last trip she sucked it up and worked in the PACU ( post anesthesia care unit) where she wasn’t as comfortable just to be able to come on the trip. This trip I have the pleasure of working in the OR with her as my scrub nurse and circulator. She ROCKS.

 

Anne Marie Patton

Cape Regional Medical Center Cape May NJ

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Anne Marie was recruited by Barb Thompson who happens to be her neighbor at the beach. This is Anne Marie’s second trip and she came as she has always felt that she can be of service. She was willing to participate in any mission trips and when Barb asked she answered the call.  She loves the people and will continue to serve. Among the group we are convinced that she is really Sister Mary Pat, a nun in disguise. She has a laugh that is unmistakable and brought enough snacks fro a small army.

(She is also a wicked UNO player!!)

Molly Viall

Blue Bell Surgery Center OR nurse

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Molly is an OR nurse who was recruited by Deb. She has years of experience and can handle anything that is thrown at her. She came on the trip with heart, soul, skills, passion and the best baked goods that you could ever want. She is used to a fast paced day and thrives in chaos, perfect skill set for Haiti where anything can happen. I watched her ding needle point and ate her baked goods so when she opened her mouth in the OR and had some of the funniest OR humor ever even I had to blush!

Cate McKee

OR Nurse Lankenau

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Cate is a new bee to the trip. She is 28 years old who is always looking to grow as an OR nurse and loves a challenge. She is warm caring and loves what she does. She came on the trip as a recruit of Dr. Sauter. You cannot tell that she is new to this work as she performs like a seasoned veteran. She will be back. ( If she was younger I would scoop her up as a daughter-in law! I told Dean that if he brings home a woman like Deb or Cate that he would be making the best choice of his life! My son Tom already has an awesome babe, Hannah!)

Tina Schwoebel

EP Lab The Philadelphia VA Hospital

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Tina is Dr Coletta’s niece and can eat anything in sight and does not gain an ounce! She has come on several mission trips with Tony. She is organized and hard working and brings years of experience to the team. She shares with all of us the experience that she has when patients are awakening from anesthesia. She is overwhelmed by the gratitude that they express and that they all say ” GOD BESS ALL OF YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO”. Tina simply gets it done!

Manny Jean-Louis

Emergency Room PA The Philadelphia VA

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Manny was born in Haiti. He lived here until he was 13 when his mother passed. He was then raised in Brooklyn and returns to Haiti to serve his native land. His creole is nothing short of amazing for being in the USA for so long. This is his first trip here as an assistant / interpreter. He answered the call from Tina to come along on our journey to help and heal Haiti one individual at a time. He is a true healer and has been touched by this experience. I know that he wants his children to understand how blessed they are to have privilege. He has busted his butt to get where he is in life and coming back he sees how his life might have ended up had he not moved to the USA.

Yvon Lebroun

ORA II  assistant at Bryn Mawr Hospital

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Ivon is an orderly at Bryn Mawr hospital who initially told Tony that he should not go to Haiti. Having left Haiti in the 70’s he did not feel he would want to go to Haiti. He has come back 3 times as an interpreter and realizes that coming on the surgical mission makes him part of the solution to the health care problems in Haiti. His brother, a college professor from Rutgers, retired here and we were able to meet him last evening. Yvon has been an essential member of this team and we are so blessed to have him allow us to communicate with out patients.

Shawn Snipes

OR CST II El Camino Hospital

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Shawn was recruited from Cal’s former hospital. He has been on one prior mission and came in not knowing anyone in our group.  His last mission trip her was with one other nurse and seems to love being part of our Haiti family. He brings his skill and passion to everything he does. He is multilingual and can pretty much communicate with anyone that we run into.

Craig Bunting

Senior Moravian College Senior

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Craig’s dad is Tony’s dentist and came home after a seeing Tony in the office and told Craig that there was an opportunity to join the mission team. Craig was 20 at the time he felt that the trip was better than expected. He chose to come back at 22 as he realized the importance of the role of logistical support. ( He really just wanted to spend another week with Cal and his dry sense of humor. We call then the Calisms) He says he will definitely come back again.

Dean DuPree

Senior Council Rock North High School  (also my youngest son)

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Dean initially came on the trip as part of his community service hours required for graduation. ( 60 in total) Last evening as we were sharing our experiences of the week to date, Dean admitted that he initially came along to fulfill the requirement and now he wants the time to go slower as it has been far more enriching of an experience than he could ever have imagined. When Dean was finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the room as everyone was touched by his sincerity.

(He was able to watch me perform surgery for the first time and had to comment that I talk a lot while I am operating. John Sauter came to my rescue and said that surgeons can talk as long as they keep working and don’t slow up the day!) I think he will be back again.

Pierre Dilus

Interpreter

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Pierre serves as our Haitian command central and an Interpreter.  Tony has been working with him for the past 7 years and he is part of our team. He makes things happen. ( Today he made Mangos appear and they are out of season). Pierre worked hand in hand with me in the clinic evaluating and preparing patients for their impending surgeries. His skills are invaluable and we consider him part of the TEAM.

The TEAM from Haiti  is part of our team as they have interspersed themselves within our group and they are teaching us as we are teaching them.

Included below are a few of the TEAM.

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Gertrude Metellus, RN

Elsie Mede, RN

Sonique Metellus,RN

Adrienne Raymond, RN

Suze Jean, lab tech

Yvena Auguste, wound care nurse

Gladys Bien Aime, pharmcist

Lizianie Bovais, administrator

Wedline Ceant, RN

Magalie Darius, RN

Mirlaine Auberjuste ,auxiliary Nurse,

Woodny Auberjuste, auxiliary Nurse

MacKendy Telusma, lab tech

Eddy Fontain, pharmacist

Dr. Bendgy Louis, MD

Cliford Francois,MD

Charlot Armstrong,  MD

Peter Pierrot, MD

Nadine Cineus, housekeeping

Wilio Jecrois ,  archives

Anothalie Cineus, housekeeping

Benite Edmond, housekeeping

Marcel Anilus, housekeeping

Marie Lourde Louis, lab tech

Salvant Alexandre Junior, Dentist

Monique Saint Louis, MD

Gibsie Pierre, Secretary

Feeling welcomed in this clinic has been a gift from God.

Every morning there is a devotional outside the clinic and although we cannot understand the language, we understand that we are all simply messengers of the divine speaking different languages.

Focus Fitness Mainline supports Haitian School

We Came, we “Cut” because we Care

Blue Sky Surgery’s first day was remarkably fluid given that these 18 individuals have not worked together before. Breakfast at 7 AM consisted of mystery meat, American cheese and fake white bread. I ate a banana with peanut butter, my dear son ate the aforementioned mystery meat. Others were complaining about the coffee, but it was hot and black, (like my trainer Vaughn) and the caffeine worked.

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We arrived in clinic at 7:45 and began to “build our schedule”. We saw patients all day long and actually performed 10 surgeries day one as all of these people who came for evaluations were NPO after midnight. (NPO stands for nothing per oral aka nothing by mouth!) By the end of the day, we were a TEAM working together to care for amazing individuals with incredible stories. (I wish I spoke the language so that I could speak to the patient’s without the interpreters)

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I came to Haiti prepared for general surgical cases. So here I am the breast surgeon, who last trip was doing the hernias and circumcisions, this time I have already performed two breast surgeries. I have a mastectomy and another breast case on the schedule for tomorrow. Same stuff in a different venue!

Rubin, the principle of the school that Dr. Tony has supported for years, came to visit over lunch and was presented with a generous donation from Focus Fitness Mainline  where Deb does yoga. Deb Mctamney, the nurse anesthetist that the universe clearly wanted me to meet ,held a fundraiser with her yoga class from Focus Fitness for the school. The money will purchase books for the semester and  pay the teachers salaries for the month.

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Dr. Shashi Kumar, or Shashi as we fondly refer to him, had his first full day in the Haitian OR. Shashi trained me to perform pediatric surgery during my residence at Einstein. He retired from pediatric surgery but keeps his hands active assisting us in the OR at Holy Redeemer. He seemed to love his first day and I am certain that Haiti loves him.

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LOVE WHERE YOU WORK AND WORK WHERE YOU LOVE

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The reason that Double Harvest is different from our prior clinic, is the medical infrastructure. There are nurses, support staff and an amazing young physician who loves where he works and works where he loves . Our nurses this week are Sonique, Gertrude and Elsie. Dr Peter is obviously the guy!

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Dr. Peter Pierrot, Dr. Peter as he is called, is the physician who is running the clinic. He has evaluated most of the patents that we will operate on and will be here to see them in follow up in the weeks to come. He has had a smile on his face since the minute we arrived and to him nothing is a problem.

He gave us a tour of the facility upon our arrival and basically said that the place is ours for the week and let him know what we need.  I passed him in the hallways all day long and at the end of the day, I was evaluating a 42 yo gentleman who had obvious jaundice ( his eyes are yellow ), dehydration (lack of fluids) and was very thin. He complained of abdominal discomfort and came in with a CT scan disc. The lovely gentleman has something blocking the duct from his liver to his bowel, that’s why the bile cannot get through and he is yellow ( jaundiced).

I was in Dr. Peter’s office calling a nun who will help us get this gentleman to a hospital that can take care of his urgent needs. We administered fluids through an intravenous and God willing he will be admitted to the hospital tomorrow and obtain the care that he needs. ( We simply do not have the equipment to perform the procedures that he needs. If you are curious he needs an ERCP that will determine what is blocking his duct.)

It took several calls to Sister Dianna to finally connect and while I was waiting to reach her I had the chance to get to know Peter’s story. We all have a story, but very often we are too busy to take time to get to know the “whys” that make us who we are.

Peter grew up just up the road from the clinic. He was just a boy when they built this clinic and has been an interpreter since day #1. When he was just 6 years old, he lost his father to typhoid fever. He said that as a child his father was such a hard worker and he rarely saw him. His dad would leave for work very early and return home very late. One day he did not come home and Peter lost his father to a disease that Peter would research and determine was completely preventable. It was then that he decided to become a doctor. Without any funding it is impossible to go to medical school as a Haitian national.

He studied very hard in school and worked every chance he got as an interpreter for medical missions and services such as ours. His effort and passion paid off as he was given an opportunity to go to college and medical school thanks to Double Harvest. He went to medical school in the Dominican Republic, classes in Spanish no less, then training in the USA in English and his payback was to return to Double Harvest and work in his native language, creole. Dr. Peter’s passion and purpose is to make a difference in the lives of those in Croix de Bouquet.

He said that he has no desire to be anywhere but here in this clinic as these are his people and he loves where he works and works where he loves! We are blessed that he has welcomed our team into his clinic so that we can make a small but meaningful impact in the lives of amazing Haitians.

So Dr. Peter proves what I know to be true that if you do what you love what you do and do what you love then  YOU WILL NEVER WORK A DAY IN YOUR LIFE!

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Dr. Peter Pierrot and his team of nurses and support staff are my Haitian Heros

Haitian Customs: So the Adventure Begins

Our flight to Haiti was delayed for mechanical reasons. Who wants a plane to take off if something isn’t working?  (There were a few unhappy travelers who lost their stuff!  I was Ok with waiting for something that was broken to be fixed. Just sayin)

 I tried to get on the Internet to get the NBC 10 interview with Dr. Anthony Coletta but it wasn’t posted at the time. (Watch the video yourself.) I used my time to obtain Internet access and down load Monopoly on my iPad. It gave Dean the opportunity to put me to shame once again playing one of my childhood favorite games.

 

We landed in Port au Prince Haiti and were greeted by Yvon’s cousin Andre who works at the airport. (Yvon is one of our interpreters and his day job is working in the OR at Bryn Mawr hospital as an orderly). The goal was to have a smooth transit through customs with all of our medical supplies. The transition was not exactly seamless, but Dr. Tony did an amazing job of getting us through the process with all of our medications and supplies in hand.Image

 

The five-mile trip to Double Harvest took 45 minutes as the Haitian Department of transportation’s care of the roads is about as advanced as the country’s access to medical care. Despite the unpaved roads and lack of traffic control, we arrived safely and were pleasantly surprised at the accommodations that awaited us at Double Harvest. The clinic is clean, air-conditioned and we have hot water to shower! (A veritable Four Seasons compared to our last surgical mission accommodations)

 

 

 

We had on average 3 bags per piece. (18 volunteers X 3 at 50 lbs per piece. ImageThat’s 2700 lbs of supplies. Our personal items were in our carry-ons!) The distribution of all of those items to their pre-surgical resting place was completed in record speed by the end of our first surgical day! The OR’s, and the prep areas were readied. We were prepared for our first day of surgery by 6 PM. Our dinner the first evening created quite a stir in the group as goat was on the menu. (Dean loved the roasted goat BTW. The goat has created recurrent fodder for Cal as he gotten a lot of mileage in comments simply out of the poor goat we ate for dinner!)

 

We were feeling very divinely guided and I found a painting in the clinic that reminded e of this guidance. Every surgeon that I know who can move beyond ego realizes that we are not alone in the OR.Image

BLUE SKY SURGICAL HAITI 2014

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Blue Sky Surgical 2014

Why do we go to Haiti??

Read on my friends and follow our journey and you will know WHY!

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Remembering 2012.Image

When I left for Haiti in June 2012, I didn’t know how strong the call to go back again would be. Spending 7 days in the OR with surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and support staff that I barely knew became a life changing, scratch that, life enhancing experience.

Vanessa's extra digits before the surgeryThirty-four surgeries later we were a TEAM! Dr. Tony, chief surgeon, is our fearless leader. Dr. John is the lead “gas passer”; aka anesthesiologist makes sure everyone we put to sleep wakes up. Cal simply an amazing soul is head of logistics, which translates into he fixes anything and everything. Then there’s me “the breast surgeon” fixing hernias, performing circumcisions and whatever else needs to be done. (Thank God for You Tube to remind me how to perform said operations) just kidding!

As the week goes on I will introduce you to all the members of our TEAM. The first new member of Blue Sky Surgical is my son Dean. He is joining Cal’s logistics team and will excel in this as he has an engineering mind,

Heading to PSU in the fall to study mechanical engineering, this surgical mission experience is just what the doctor ordered.  I am not sure the Dean knows exactly what is in store for him but his big bro Tom has convinced him that medical missions ROCK. Having my children share in medical missions has given this work an even greater meaning.

Dean’s track team has qualified for states therefore he will be training for his winter state track meet while we are in Haiti.  His distance medley relay has qualified again this year for states. (Last year they took silver!!)

Despite missing an entire week of school last week due to weather, he is ready to head to Haiti to make a difference!

The PREP

Preparing for the trip this year was challenging and required the intervention of many angels. My June 2012 trip was a chip shot for preparation in comparison. This year I assumed the role of one of the leaders and with that new responsibility came a host of challenges that against all odds we have succeeded in obtaining enough supplies to care for 60+ individuals who are in need of our services.

We will be operating under the non-profit Double Harvest. Our schedule has been set by the local physician in Port au Prince, or so we think.

My initial assignment was to obtain half of the surgical equipment that we require to be able to perform the surgeries. I am so fortunate that I have CEO at Holy Redeemer, Mike Laign, who believes in making a difference n the world. I went to the companies who manufacture the products an asked for their assistance, and Ethicon graciously donated the suture and proline hernia mesh systems through a non-profit MAP. Joe Benonis was my connection in the supply acquisition and he made this process so simple. Despite an initial hiccup, half of my list was missing when I picked up the supplies; all of the materials I needed to provide for our journey were readied for the trip.

Less then three weeks prior to our departure, my colleague Dr. John was unable to obtain the medications that he needed to provide state-of-the-art anesthesia. I went back to Mike, my CEO at Holy Redeemer and angel #1, and asked if HR could possible acquire and or donate the medications that we required. He sent an email and passed the baton to angel #2, Randie Oberlander our pharmacy director. I know Randie through senior leadership meetings and have always felt she had “good mojo”. After two and a half weeks of her being our guardian angel, I can say that she has “great mojo”.

Randie not only ordered the meds, she was instrumental in getting all of the clearances we needed with the DEA. We started this process January 27th and on the DEA website it said allow a minimum of 4-6 weeks. (It’s Feb 9th and you can do the math) Randie introduced me to our DEA angel #3,Jean, who were it not for her personal investment in our mission trip, we would not have the medications that we need to follow through with our trip. I shared my story with Jean and she became our ally and I consider her a member of Blue Sky Surgical as she has been and will be with us in spirit.

Sparing you all of the details, our hospital pharmacy endured a flood, just days before our departure. On Friday the 7th in the midst of the pharmacies clean up I found out that a letter was needed and more forms needed to be completed for us to get the DEA letter. Randie had to write a new letter to the DEA and redo our forms that Julia, my amazing breast care coordinator, had to fax to the DEA. Jean then had to wait fro someone official to break from a conference to sign said documents to allow the letter to be written that would let Randie release the drugs to me. All this was happening during my office hours that were jam packed with patients due to the historic ice storm. My email pinged at 1:35 PM and our ANGEL JEAN came through and the letter was in my email. Randie could not open the document but a quick response from Terry Donovan our computer guru at HR allowed this leg of our journey to be completed.

Suffice it to say that these trips are divinely guided and angels are everywhere all you need to do is ask for their guidance. Friday evening my amazing husband Joe cooked a fabulous meal for our family and friends Brenda and Mark Darling while we were busy reorganizing our supplies and packing our bags. A few hours later I was feeling less stressed about the process when I realized that we had compressed our supplies to fit into eight bags none of which weighed more than 50 lbs.

A heartfelt thank you to Holy Redeemer for their generosity

Dean and I slept at the PHL Airport Marriott as there was a threat of snow and I didn’t want to make Joe wake up at 2:30 AM to have to drive us to the airport. We were on the 4 AM shuttle from the hotel to the departure gate and clearly our huge luggage load was an issue for the other shuttle passengers. I saw one man shaking his head and making a comment that I thankfully could not hear. Some of their bags needed to be placed in the van where we were sitting and I was just waiting for him to make a snide remark. It only took about 1 minute 30 seconds out of the driveway for him to say, “ You people don’t believe in packing light do you!” I replied, “ I always try to pack with a carryon only, but we are on our way to Haiti to perform surgery on individuals less fortunate than we are who do not have access to surgical care. Our bags are filled with surgical supplies. All but the small red bag which is our clothing and scrubs for the week.”

Suddenly we weren’t the ignorant over packers that he had assumed we were and the others on the van made a point of saying how awesome it was that we were doing this. A woman on the van has a son who is working with Operation Smile this summer and ash let us know so as to distance herself from the first gentleman’s comment.

Moral of the story “do not ASSUME as it can make an ASS out of U and ME”. In this case it was HIM.

We met our Philadelphia based TEAM and we are 14 strong. The other 4 members will meet us in Miami for the next leg of the adventure. Our entire luggage is tagged and on the plane and our Blue Sky Surgical TEAM is on a mission from God.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”

Gandhi