Porter Health System’s Physicians and Nurses Make a World of Difference a World Away
By generously donating their time and talents, several Porter physicians and nurses made a difference in the lives of children and adults in two foreign countries.
Just two weeks after the earthquake hit Haiti in January of this year, general surgeon William Nowlin, MD, family physician Brett Brechner, DO, and nurse practitioner Brenda Renstchler, RN, traveled to the devastated country as part of a 14-member multi-specialty team to offer their services. The trip was sponsored by Hope International and the medical ministry, “In His Image,” based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“During our week in Haiti, we saw approximately 300 people a day and averaged 10 to 15 surgeries a day,” said Dr. Nowlin. Dr. Nowlin explained that their medical team dealt with injuries, amputations, infections and a variety of traumas.
“We were shocked by the extent of devastation to the small country. None of us had ever seen or experienced anything like what was there; it was truly a life-changing experience for us all,” he added. “One surgeon on our team stated, and I agree, ‘I’m a better surgeon due to this week in Haiti.’”
And more recently, a medical team comprised of anesthesiologist Vikram Appannagari, MD, plastic surgeon Nicholas Retson, MD, Nancy Lijewski, RN, Martha Schweizer, RN, and Janine Button, CST, Roberta Gettler, RN, Lilia Lopez, RN, and Laura Retson completed a medical mission trip to Tarija, Bolivia. According to Dr. Retson, this was the second time they have been to Tarija, Bolivia, in the last six months.
Working primarily with young burn victims the team completed 50 procedures on more than 32 patients during their 10-day mission. “Because over 60% of the country has no electricity, they depend on open fires and kerosene stoves in their houses and they subsequently have a high rate of burns, especially in children. Unfortunately, there are not enough doctors there trained in burn care, and in many cases there is no medical care available, resulting in significant scar deformities with loss of function of hands, arms, and legs.”
Dr. Appannagari added, “The youngest child we saw was a two-year-old who required several skin grafts because of his extensive burns. Another case we operated on involved a 16 year-old pregnant girl, whose roof collapsed and left her entire hand completely burned and unusable.”
During the trip, the doctors and nurses also taught local physicians how to conduct surgical follow-ups and Saturday clinics. “We are endowed with so much here in the United States that we truly don’t realize how many people and families out there are in such great need,” said Dr. Appannagari. “The people we saw had no one available to help them in this very poor country. It was remarkable that they immediately trusted us with their most precious possessions – their children.”
Reinforcing that sentiment, Dr. Retson said, “Our team has now been on 30 missions, with trips to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, and India, and we will be going to Jinotega, Nicaragua in August. When we go on these missions, we try to change the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. It is only fair that we can change their lives, because every time we go on one of these trips they change our lives.”