Mission Trips: How DPMs Are Making An Impact Worldwide

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‘Small Steps’ Makes A Big Impact

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.

Here is a photo of Luke D. Cicchinelli, DPM, and a five-year-old Nicaraguan girl who was treated for a large lipoma deep to her plantar fascia. Dr. Cicchinelli says participating in mission trips “frames my daily work in a context of value and service bey
“The mission trips have had a huge impact on me,” says Patrick DeHeer, DPM, who performed a clubfoot reconstruction for this 13-year-old patient in Honduras. “ … You come to the understanding that you are receiving much more than you are giving and it bec
“The thing that struck me the most was the profound appreciation these people had for what we were doing for them. To these less fortunate people, fixing their deformity was a precious gift,” recalls Joe Southerland, DPM, shown above with members of the m
During a mission trip to Nicaragua, John McCord, DPM, performed a bunionectomy for this patient, who traveled nine hours (including the first three hours on foot) to get to the clinic.
Daniel K. Lee, DPM, says having the proper team of physicians and supporting staff is crucial for mission trips. His colleagues on a recent trip to Honduras include (standing from left to right): Stanley Weinstein, DPM, Matt Roberts, DPM, Jeff Yung, DPM,
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Author(s): 
By Robi Garthwait, Contributing Editor

More and more DPMs are volunteering their time and considerable expertise to travel abroad to help those in need of medical attention. While the concept of missionary work is certainly not new, the number of opportunities to help others across the globe seemingly grows each year. It is not only the patients in other countries who benefit from the gifts these trips provide.
Daniel Lee, DPM, AACFAS, remembers going on mission trips as an elementary school student while living in South America. He currently serves on the faculty of the Baja Project for Crippled Children.
Since 1976, the Baja Project has been treating children free of charge at the Mexicali Red Cross Hospital in Baja California, Mexico. The nonprofit corporation is funded entirely through corporate and private donations although Dr. Lee notes a major source of income comes from the annual Baja Project Seminar on Pediatric Foot and Ankle Surgery.
Dr. Lee, who also serves on the faculty at the LAC+USC Medical Center, became involved in the Baja Project as a resident in 1999.
“As a podiatric surgical resident, I was fortunate to acquire specific pediatric surgical training,” recalls Dr. Lee. “The faculty that I trained with was very supportive toward medical missions. Now, as part of the faculty for the Baja Project, I have been able to apply my education and training, and provide specific medical and surgical services to the people in need.”
At year-round clinics, Dr. Lee regularly treats children with conditions ranging from pediatric clubfoot to congenital deformities to acquired neuromuscular disorders of the lower extremities. He describes “the smile of a child being able to walk and the tears of joy of parents watching their child walk for the very first time,” as the most rewarding aspects of the job.
According to Dr. Lee, part of the Baja Project’s goal and mission is to promote education and they teach members of the orthopedic community the surgical procedures involved for the correction and the postoperative treatment needed for each patient. Dr. Lee says they “strongly emphasize” the Ponseti method for treating clubfoot deformity and that quick intervention in these cases is essential.

Challenges On Mission Trips
Go Beyond The Medical
Even apart from the medical side, the work can be difficult. “Visiting third-world countries is quite a challenge,” admits Dr. Lee. “But actually going there for missions is much more than challenging.”
Dr. Lee cites customs, religion and socioeconomic and behavioral changes as some of the factors that require high levels of knowledge and sensitivity on the part of specialists visiting foreign countries.
“Financial support is always a concern,” notes Dr. Lee. “Furthermore, having the proper team of physicians and supporting staff is crucial.”
Dr. Lee says there are many other things to consider, from receiving authorization from local authorities and transporting hundreds of boxes of supplies to the site to educating local surgeons and even gaining the respect and friendship of local residents.

“It is very important to realize that we are there as ambassadors representing not only our country, as Americans in a foreign land, but we are also representing podiatric foot and ankle surgeons,” adds Dr. Lee.
The impact of mission work on Dr. Lee’s life cannot be overstated.
“This is about making a difference,” he says. “If we can make a difference in this world as individuals and as podiatric surgeons, then I think we have achieved part of our goals as physicians and human beings sharing this world.”

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Anonymoussays: October 26, 2010 at 1:08 am

I am still a student looking into going into this field. My mindset is just like the doctors mentioned here!

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