Trinity Students Join First WPP Craniofacial Surgical Mission

Young girl smiling

For the past decade and a half, The World Pediatric Project (WPP), has been conducting general and specialized surgical missions to St. Vincent.  For the very first time, there was a visit explicitly to perform craniofacial procedures for Eastern Caribbean pediatric patients in need.

The new team was lead by pediatric plastic and craniofacial surgeon Dr. Jennifer Rhodes of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.  She was supported by anesthesiologist Dr. Seamus Dore, plastic surgeon Dr. Franklin Lew, and OR nurse Molly McCabe.  The team’s focus was to evaluate and provide care for children with complex head and facial anomalies, and to follow up cases of children seen by previous surgical teams.  Joining them in triage, prep, OR, and recovery, were Trinity 5th term students.

Eighteen children were examined on clinic day, with seven identified to receive immediate surgical care during the week that followed. The team operated mainly on birth defects to the face and head, particularly cleft lip and palate.  Dr. Rhodes, noted on the WPP at large, “It’s such a fantastic and well run program and the most rewarding part is getting to see the families and children do well from their surgeries.”

She praised the fact that it caters so intricately to the needs of both the local Vincentian and the Eastern Caribbean communities, adding, “The thoughtfulness with which they develop their programs and how they are so careful to really look at the communities they are working in and try and do what the community feels is best, is most important.”

Trinity and the World Pediatric Project are long term partners, with 5th term students operating as helping hands and eager pupils on these visits. This case was no exception. The students were given the opportunity to attend this first craniofacial mission. Trinity student Andy Herink found the surgeons to be, “Obviously very professional and knowledgeable in their field, and happy to teach and answer any questions.” His colleague, fellow Trinity student Brian Horne mirrored the sentiment, noting, “They really cared that we were there trying to learn and gain experience. They cared about what our plans for the future were, and even promoted the field of plastic surgery in case that might be something we are interested in. It was honestly even a networking opportunity.”

The students observed the surgeons in action each day in the OR. Andy Herink observed three cleft palate repairs, adding that, “Dr. Rhodes made a point to pause every now and then to show exactly what was being done and to teach about the anatomy of the area. I felt very grateful that these surgeons would take the time in surgery to teach us and allow us to observe from their perspective.”

His colleague, Brian Horne observed a patient with Apert syndrome who had syndactyly. “This was the first of this kind of surgery I had experienced,” he continued, “I was able to see everything going on and to ask questions about why the doctors were doing certain things, the thought process, the choices. When the patient’s fingers were separated, Dr. Rhodes said, ‘She has five fingers!’  It was incredible to see and know the positive impact it’s going to have on the patient’s life.”

Remembering that Dr. Rhodes urged the students to consider plastics, Andy Herink walked away with a new fascination for the field, but admitted that it was still early for a final decision about his area of specialty.  Brian Horne on the other hand, admitted to have always been interested in general surgery but was still considering a sub-specialty, noting clinicals would dramatically influence his choices.  “I had never really considered plastics before but this showed me another side and made me see how much variety there is in the ways you can help people.”

The World Pediatric Project continues to provide pediatric critical care to children of St, Vincent and the Grenadines and the Eastern Caribbean.  In their mission to realize their mandate of healing a child, Trinity’s students will be fulfilling their own mandate, by training not just their skills, but their sense of compassion.

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