Doctors will speak about their medical missions

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Every year, some Southampton physicians and other medical professionals take their vacations in the poorest regions of the world. Next week, they’ll try to encourage others to do the same.

Doctors who have led trips around the world, bringing first-class medicine to third-world countries, will describe their medical missions in a program at Southampton Hospital on Wednesday, January 14, at 5 p.m., in an effort to encourage other medical professionals to do the same. The public is also invited, but reservations are required.

The reason for the event, according to Dr. Louis Pizzarello, is that participating doctors know there are professional people interested in participating but they have few chances to meet with the doctors, nurses and technicians who have been on a medical mission before.

Once they go on a mission the first time, they are likely to go again and again, he said.

Dr. Pizzarello, an ophthalmologist who works extensively with the World Health Organization and other multinational groups to treat and prevent blindness around the world, said that he will speak at the lecture on Wednesday about working with foreign governments—he has been to about 40 countries—and international health in general. Dr. Scott Silverberg and Dr. Medhat Allam, his colleagues at Southampton Hospital, will join him in talking about traveling the world to provide medical care and training in impoverished nations.

Dr. Silverberg and Dr. Allam take different approaches to medical missions, Dr. Pizzarello said. Dr. Silverberg and his Raphael Ministries have made a commitment to one institution, Kitwe Central Hospital, in Zambia. Dr. Allam’s group, International Surgical Mission Support, which he helped found in Southampton a dozen years ago, travels to a new place each year.

Both groups are homegrown in Southampton Town, Dr. Pizzarello noted. Raphael Ministries is rooted in the Community Bible Church in Sag Harbor.

While in Kitwe, a Raphael Ministries surgical team performed free procedures for poor patients for two and a half days straight, from 8:30 in the morning until midnight, Dr. Silverberg, the chief of anesthesia at Southampton Hospital, said.

In some cases, such as burn-scar treatments and tumor removal, the surgeries were not emergencies. But in others, Dr. Silverberg said patients would have died or been maimed had Raphael ministries not been there.

He recalled a case in which Dr. James Brady, a plastic surgeon, performed a cross-leg flap operation. To save a patient’s leg from amputation after a car accident, Dr. Brady sewed one of legs to the other to cover a portion of exposed tendons and bones. Local surgeons were able to separate the legs two weeks later, completing the procedure and saving the leg, Dr. Silverberg said.

In another case, a woman fell off a truck, and all the bone and skin on the right side of her head was gone—her brain was exposed. Dr. Silverberg said the surgeons stabilized her with a skin graph so she could make it to the hospital in Lusaka for neurosurgery.

General surgeons, plastic surgeons, ob/gyns, emergency room and operating room nurses, and other professionals made the trip with Raphael to provide varied care to the Zambians. Raphael’s medical team also saw patients all day long, Dr. Silverberg said, offering treatments and prescriptions to about 500 or 600 patients.

Dr. Allam, a general surgeon, recalled a case during one of his first medical missions about a decade ago that has stuck with him. It ended with a baby girl in Brazil being named after him. 
“There’s a poor kid in the Amazon jungle with a silly name,” he joked.

“They brought us a young girl who was in a coma” from toxemia, Dr. Allam explained. The doctors hadn’t even set up all their equipment yet, on the first day of surgeries. The girl was pregnant, and both she and the baby could have died if they had not performed an emergency C-section, he said. Within three minutes, they had delivered the baby, and both baby and mother were resuscitated, he said.

Dr. Allam, who is leaving in two weeks for a mission to India and then to Ghana in April, said he hopes the lecture at the hospital entices attendees to sign up for a mission by making them realize that, even in these hard times, “People are having it way harder than us.”

Dr. Pizzarello said the lecture may lead to annual meetings to strengthen the network of Southampton medical professionals with an interest in international health. But the event is not exclusive, he advised: “It’s really open to the entire community. The more the merrier.”

In fact, Dr. Silverberg said Raphael Ministries is looking for a few lay people to join the group when it heads back to Kitwe this spring.

Joseph and Dana Shaw, the executive editor and photo editor, respectively, of the Press News Group, will also make a presentation, sharing their photographs and experiences from last year, when they traveled with Dr. Allam’s group to Peru. The trip was featured in a two-part series in The Press last May.

The event, part of Southampton Hospital’s Health Insights lecture series, will be held at Parrish Memorial Hall, on the corner of Lewis Street and Herrick Road. To reserve a seat, call (631) 726-8700 ext. 8, or e-mail dcraven@southamptonhospital.org.

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