Their volunteer team is made up of three orthopedic surgeons, one orthopedic resident, a five member anesthesia team consisting of anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists, 14 nurses, and one hand therapist. The team varies between 24 and 32 people, depending on students, residents, and other volunteers. Most of the time, the same core members return.
Teamwork is essential in the operating room. “Knowing what each person will do right before it happens leads to positive outcomes,” Andrews said. “Geographically, we’re all over the U.S. We come together about three times a year and have gotten to know each other so well that we can anticipate one another’s next steps.”
“That makes us operate more efficiently,” he added. “We use our time wisely, which means more children will be treated.”
One way they save time is to use what they need. In the operating room, a lot of time is spent on sterilizing equipment. “Here in the U.S., a nurse may put out 300 instruments, even though we will only use a fraction of that amount. All of those instruments need to be washed and sterilized,” he said. “In San Miguel de Allende, my scrub nurse will only get the exact instruments I need. So, I may have 10 as opposed to 300.”
Saving time means seeing more patients and spending more time with them. Virtually all of the supplies are donated by U.S. hospitals and medical companies. Then the equipment is transported to the hospital. “Mexico has been especially convenient as the supplies are able to be driven across the border, rather than transported by air,” Andrews said. “Shipping equipment to other countries was significantly more expensive.”
That’s one of the reasons they chose central Mexico. “It’s an old silver mining town,” Andrews said. “The mines dried up in the 1800s and the town fell on bad times. There are a lot of ex-pats living there. It’s a beautiful town with a nice group of volunteers. When we go there, we take over the whole OR (operating room). We spend a week each time we go.”
To pay for the team’s trip, Andrews writes grants. The grants cover the costs of equipment and materials, too. A lot of the durable goods, such as sponges, needles, syringes, and drugs, can’t be used over and over again. They also rely on donations.
Many of the operations they perform are the same ones they do here in the U.S. “In our country, a child with a club foot is put in a cast and if surgery is needed, it happens right away,” Andrews said. “Here in the U.S., children are diagnosed more quickly. In San Miguel de Allende, sometimes no one sees these kids at all.”
That’s why Kids First keeps on returning. Notices are posted and announcements are made on local radio stations a few weeks in advance. The first day of their visit often resembles a party atmosphere. Nearby restaurants often donate food for volunteers, the patients, and their families.
The Kids First team usually sees between 200 and 300 children on the first day, do operations, follow ups, and plan their return visits. The computer experts on the team keep excellent medical records of the children they treated. “We tell them we’ll be back, and we do,” Andrews said. “That ensures a better continuity of care.”
October 30, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN