LCHM Summer 2018 - 21

L C M E D S O C .O R G

oxygen flowing, the middle-aged woman
rapidly started to improve. Note to self:
compressed oxygen is really, really cold
and probably shouldn't be in contact with
human skin for extended periods of time.
As the surgeons continued to work on
her, I saw a Nigerian nurse hang a bag of
blood. But the bag looked familiar and I
saw that the bag's number and the order
for blood didn't match. I shouted for her
to wait, released my grip on the tank and
ran back down the hall toward the Recovery
Room, looking for another patient's father,
whom I had seen earlier holding a bag of
blood intended for his 4-year-old son. But
his hands were empty, so I asked where
the blood was. He pointed toward the OR,
telling me a nurse had taken it. But his son
was in Recovery, not the OR, so I raced back
to confirm that the bag in question was for
the boy and was, in fact, a different blood
type. One of the surgeons looked up from
the woman's neck to thank me, saying that
in her compromised state, the wrong blood
likely would have killed her, and I had just
saved her life. That was the brightest moment
of the week for me.

no sterile gowns or oxygen in the OR, no
ventilators or defibrillators, no on-site fresh
blood. Power and water were intermittent.
Supplies were scarce, other than what we
brought. We were shorthanded because
the local medical staff had little interest in
our patients.
Nigeria has stark social and economic
contrasts. With Africa's strongest economy,
most of its 195 million people live in poverty,
without clean water or education, impacted
by AIDS, brutal sectarian violence and
dislocation. Life expectancy is under 52,
the lowest in Africa, while the birth rate,
child mortality (20% don't reach five) and
malnourishment are among the highest. Few
physicians and hospital beds mean most
people can't access health care.

Despite the conditions, our small team
operated on over 100 patients who would
otherwise not have received medical care.
In addition to running around with oxygen
tanks and other supplies and comforting
post-op children, I was also needed to first
assist for several major surgical procedures.
I was happy to discover that I could handle
it well and that I recognized the anatomy
The whole week had been a challenge, and because of the premed preparation I've done
our last night was the most challenging of all. since my first mission. I was able to actually
Our group from the World Surgical Foun- help, rather than hinder, the surgeons, makdation had already packed our supplies and ing me even more certain that medicine is
equipment to leave the next day. In the wee the right career path for me.
hours of the morning, very few of us were left
in the hospital: two surgeons, two anesthetists,
Sadly, the four-year-old in Recovery, who'd
and me - an aspiring medical student.
had a grapefruit-sized Wilm's tumor removed
from his abdomen nine hours earlier, and
Two previous surgical missions in Hondu- whose father had patiently waited with a bag
ras had impacted me with the importance of of blood for him, crashed just as the surgeons
access to competent medical care, equipment were stabilizing the previous patient. Four
and supplies. My first Honduran mission had, of us swapped off doing CPR, holding the
in fact, redirected my life toward becoming a regulator to the oxygen tank and resting for
physician. But veteran team members who'd two hours while the surgeons tried to save
participated in missions in the Philippines, him. Unfortunately, little Emmanuel didn't
Honduras, India, Ethiopia, Thailand and make it. Because the other team members
other Third World nations said the Nigeria who worked so hard to save him were so
mission was the worst they'd encountered: distressed, I took it upon myself to clean

up his tiny body before his parents saw
him - something I'd never done before and
hope to never do again.
Here in the US, the child's tumor would
have been diagnosed and removed far earlier
and he would likely have been fine, according
to our pediatric surgeon. If we'd had only a
fraction of the resources we take for granted
in the U.S., both patients might be alive.
Losing that boy was one of the worst things
I've experienced, because access to better
equipment might have saved him. His loss
will always remind me that competent care
coupled with adequate equipment make a
huge difference. I'm proud to have been able
to help handle multiple medical disasters
calmly and efficiently; I only wish little
Emmanuel's story had ended differently.
Unlike my previous two missions to
Honduras, I didn't come home feeling very
good about the trip to Nigeria - until a few
weeks later, when another patient's father
sent a message through the World Surgical
Foundation's Facebook page about his son
whose congenital abdominal defect was
repaired by WSF's founder, pediatric surgeon
Domingo Alvear. I had taken care of young
David in postop and was thrilled to see that
his father remembered my name:
"I,want to thank u so much on de successful
major operation carried out on my son David
on de 8th of Nov,2017. be informed that
David is hale n healthy n has started going
to school. extend my regards to Dr Alvear,
Peter n others. Thanks Lawrence"

So we did make a
Peter V. Rovito has a B.S. from Penn State and a
Master's from Drexel. He's the son of general surgeon
Peter F. Rovito, MD, and Donna Baver Rovito, and is
currently applying to medical school. He looks forward
to caring for the underserved once he becomes a physician, both here in the U.S. and on surgical missions in
the future.

For more information or to support tHE World Surgical Foundation, go to
SUMMER 2018 | Lehigh County Health & Medicine 21


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of LCHM Summer 2018

LCHM Summer 2018 - 1
LCHM Summer 2018 - 2
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