UIHC surgeons operate on patients in need in Honduras

UIHC personnel traveled to Central America to provide hand surgeries for patients in need of health care.


Hand surgeon Ericka Lawler with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hand surgeon (formerly of UIHC) Apurva Shah. (contributed)

Jordan Prochnow , News Reporters

A team of surgeons and providers from the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics spent several days in Honduras in September offering upper body extremities surgeries to children in need.

Partnered with providers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the team spent its fourth-annual trip to Siguatepeque at La Providencia, an orphanage with an on-site clinic and facilities.

The mission trip is part of Sharing Resources Worldwide, located in Madison, Wisconsin. There are seven teams with different surgical specialties that travel to Honduras every year with the goal of treating patients who otherwise may not have access to health-care resources.

“It really opens your eyes to the incredible access to health care that we have in the United States,” orthopedic surgeon Ericka Lawler said. “Many patients travel multiple hours to see us for things that should have been treated months ago.”

When providers head to La Providencia, the center uses social media to spread the word that surgeons will be available to treat various conditions. On the first day the providers are in the clinic, patients travel numerous hours by train, horse, or other methods.

Surgical technician Lynn Burleson said that they see every patient during that day to see what can be offered, and the operating room schedule is posted at the end of the day.

“Most of these surgeries are to fix congenital problems that we would fix earlier in the United States,” Burleson said. “These issues take a long time to fix, and they could have been fixed earlier on.”

Lawler said that last year, they had five days to operate with a decreased number of patients. This year, the team decided to dedicate only four days to operations, but the staff members were overwhelmed with patients.

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In the past, this meant that the team could perform surgeries on nearly all of the patients, but there were around six individuals this year who could not receive operations.

“Even if you have nothing to offer them, they are really grateful that you’ve taken the time and your expertise to offer opinions,” Lawler said. “It really brings back why you go into medicine in the first place, which is to help people.”

Both Lawler and Burleson said the mission trip is a wonderful way to give back to the community, but it has brought some challenges as well. Some of these issues include outdated medical supplies, limited resources, and a lack of funding for the program.

“We never really know what we’ll find when we get there,” Burleson said. “UIHC doesn’t offer sanctions for missions — employees must pay their own way and take personal vacation time. Funding and supplies are the biggest hurdles to overcome in mission work.”

Surgical fellow Elizabeth Weldin said that while she does not know if she will be able to travel abroad much in the future, she hopes to continue to give back to the community.

“The trip touched my heart through the work with the children and the local community,” Weldin said. “I saw the need for more volunteerism and mission work.”