Todd Gunzy, DPM, who practices in Mesa, Ariz., has been instrumental in creating one of the longest-running podiatric mission teams in existence. It took one phone call to get the ball rolling.
In 1992, Dr. Gunzy worked at St. Raphaels, a Catholic hospital in New Haven, Ct. A nun at the hospital put in him in touch with a plastic surgeon who had just returned from a mission trip to Guatemala. The plastic surgeon gave Dr. Gunzy the phone number of Angeles Glick, who runs the organization Healing the Children, Northeast. The program, which has chapters nationwide, is involved in securing medical and surgical teams, and placing them in areas of need.
“The phone call was made Oct. 1 and I was on a plane Oct. 10 to Guatemala,” recollects Dr. Gunzy.
After that first trip, Dr. Gunzy began recruiting medical personnel from the West Jersey Health Systems Residency Program, from which he graduated, to form the first podiatric medical mission team. The team began annual trips to Guatemala in 1993. When Luke Cicchinelli, DPM, got on board in 1996, it was his idea to link up the team with the Atlanta-based Podiatry Institute. In addition to rotating its podiatrists and residents through the team, the Podiatry Institute also provides funding.
Currently called Small Steps, Dr. Gunzy’s team travels abroad on an annual basis, focusing mainly on countries in Central and South America. To date, the team has operated on over 450 children. The team is composed of 14 core members and several rotating members, including two residents from the West Jersey Health System’s program, one guest orthopedic surgeon and one faculty member from the Podiatry Institute. It is currently working with the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Healing the Children.
Understanding The Considerable Preparation And Legwork
To say it takes a lot of legwork to conduct each trip is an understatement.
“I begin preparing for the actual trips about six months prior to us departing,” says Dr. Gunzy, who once tracked the number of hours he devoted to preparation at 140. “We gather our own supplies and ship them one month prior to our arrival, travel on Saturdays, screen patients on Sundays, operate Monday through Friday, and are back home on Sunday.”
As team leader, Dr. Gunzy is responsible for everything from the designation of supplies and the coordination of shipping with Healing the Children to creating the operating room schedule after the triaging of patients and maintaining public relations with each country’s liaison. However, he is quick to give credit to Dr. Cicchinelli, who “has been my right-hand man and has helped break down many barriers with his bilingual abilities and his pleasing personality.”
Achieving A Deeper Perspective
For Dr. Gunzy, the mission work has been extremely gratifying. “As Americans, we take a lot for granted,” he says. “You could call it a reality check. It makes me appreciate what I have each day.”
Dr. Gunzy acknowledges that the key to success is the follow-up care his team provides. “We try to return to the same country for a few years in a row so we can evaluate the children and the procedures that were performed,” notes Dr. Gunzy. “We make it a point to include the surgeons of the host country so we can continue to learn from each other."
Although there is usually a long waiting list, people who are interested in joining Dr. Gunzy’s team may contact him at Tgunzy@aol.com.
“Applying physicians must have surgical experience with pediatric clubfoot either in their residency or current private practice,” notes Dr. Gunzy. “We are always looking for ancillary medical personnel.”
For information on various chapters of the organization Healing The Children, go to www.healingchildren.org/local_chapters.html. For information on the Baja Project For Crippled Children, please visit: www.bajaproject.org.