Rare yet inhibiting, “syndactyly” is a condition when fingers or toes are webbed or conjoined. It requires careful work to correct.
One child in Guatemala whose hands and feet are malformed by this condition is learning how to use new fingers following surgery in 2021.
Kootenai Health’s Patrick Mullen, M.D., was among the care team that made this possible.
“I had the privilege of taking care of a 2-and-a-half-year-old girl with a bilateral hand and feet deformities,” Dr. Mullen said. “Her thumbs were fused to the index fingers, the middle finger was absent. Her hand had the appearance of lobster claws. On one hand, we separated the thumb from the index finger, closed the cleft and created a web space between the index finger and thumb.”
During his first trip with A Love for Missions Abroad (ALMA), Dr. Mullen and his family changed the lives of Guatemalan villagers who don’t have access to the health care Americans enjoy.
“Our patients had excellent follow-up from local surgeons,” Dr. Mullen said. “We have since received videos of this little girl in hand therapy. She is developing excellent ability to pinch with her thumb and index finger. The appearance of her hand is closer to normal, which should help with social acceptance. I am hoping to return to Guatemala so I can operate on her other hand.”
Founded in 2018 by CRNA Mike Oswald of Anesthesia Associates of Coeur d’Alene, the nonprofit ALMA was formed to create a symbiotic relationship between volunteers, including those from the Kootenai Health medical staff, and the medical staff at the clinic in Xela, Guatemala. It has since grown to safely provide surgical care to hundreds of individuals.
“You have these people who come in, literally suffering, and the moment you do something for them, they’re so grateful,” said Mike, who began caring for patients abroad in 2007.
“Patients are put on lists, but half the health care facility doesn’t have the staff, the medication or the instrumentation they need for the procedures,” he said. “The gratitude for ending their suffering is really overwhelming. It’s, ‘Gracias, gracias, gracias!’ It makes you want to cry.”
Dr. Tom deTar, an otolaryngologist at St. Joseph’s Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy Clinic in Post Falls, received a unique token of appreciation for his work. He’s been on three ALMA missions.
“We took a mass out of a lady’s neck,” Dr. deTar said. “After she recovered, her husband asked us to come to their home, a tiny little place in the corn fields. He gave us his prize rooster as a Thanksgiving gift.”
Why do these medical professionals do this work abroad?
“You come back rejuvenated,” Dr. deTar said. “This is what we do.”
“It changes your life,” Mike Oswald said.
Visit http://alma.gives/ to learn about ALMA and see more global work from local doctors.