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Joseph Smith Jr., M.D., prepares to perform surgery at the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Urologic surgeons take skills, equipment to Congo

BY: MIMI ECKHARD

7/22/2010 - A Vanderbilt University Medical Surgical team recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where they provided critically needed urologic equipment and training on treating women injured in ongoing violent attacks in the region.

Joseph Smith Jr., M.D., chair of Urologic Surgery, and residents Greg Broughton, M.D., and Ian Thompson III, M.D., treated 30 patients in the Panzi Hospital outpatient clinic and performed complex reconstructive surgeries on another 25. This was Smith's third trip to the Congo, and he is set to return in August.

“The region does not have a single urologist, so anything we can do to help these women get treatment is why we're there in the first place,” said Smith. “We continue to go back because humanitarian outreach is so essential in this area,” he said.

Through vendor contributions and Smith's own philanthropic efforts, approximately $35,000 in medical devices were donated that will assist doctors in diagnosing and evaluating which surgery is needed for each patient.

One such device, a cystoscope, includes lenses that enable doctors to see inside the bladder and urethra, and guide them in surgical procedures to repair the area. Without this, doctors in the Congo must perform much more extensive surgery, opening the abdomen and bladder, which can result in post-operative complications.

“It's incredibly rewarding to help these wonderfully patient women who, for fear of being ostracized back home due to urologic complications from rape or child birth, literally live on hospital grounds waiting their turn to be treated,” said Thompson.

Taking part in the surgical visit were, from left, Ian Thompson III, M.D., Greg Broughton, M.D., and Smith.

Taking part in the surgical visit were, from left, Ian Thompson III, M.D., Greg Broughton, M.D., and Smith.

“The whole experience made me appreciate what we have back home,” said Broughton. “The Congoese physicians have dedicated their entire lives to taking care of people with limited resources and without a second thought,” he said.

In addition to medical equipment, the surgical team brought two portable surgical headlights, prototypes that were developed by former medical student Ryan Hutchinson just as he was completing his fourth year at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Electricity frequently goes out for minutes at a time throughout the day, leaving surgeons to rely on ambient light from windows as they perform surgeries.

The lamps were given to the doctors at Panzi Hospital and Hutchinson is sending newly modified rechargeable battery packs.

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