Orthopedic Mission Led by Northwest Surgeons

By Alexander Hirata

Canvasback Missions, Inc. sent three medical specialty teams to Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in May and June 2014. The orthopedic surgery team arrived May 24. Two separate dental teams followed, arriving May 31 and June 14.

The orthopedic team consisted of three orthopedic surgeons, two operating room nurses, two recovery nurses, a physical therapist, a clinic coordinator, a biomedical technician, and three clinic office assistants. The team ran clinics for two weeks at the government-operated Majuro Hospital.

Richard Henderson, MD, the orthopedic surgeon who assembled the team, recognizes the value of orthopedic care in the RMI. “The resources in Majuro are pretty limited,” said Henderson. “The needs are huge.” He saw patients who had lived with joint problems for years, which had limited their mobility and productivity.

This is Henderson’s fifth medical mission to the islands. He worked once with Canvasback in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia and three times in Ebeye, RMI. A “humble bone mechanic,” as he refers to himself, from Walla Walla, Washington, he practices at Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital. His wife, Kay Henderson, MD, triaged and counseled patients at the Majuro clinic.

Running clinics on weekdays from May 26-June 5, the Canvasback orthopedic team examined 323 patients and performed 34 surgeries, including 12 total or partial knee replacements and a hip replacement. The value of services provided is modestly calculated to be $877,660. In order to see and treat so many people, the team worked long hours. Henderson said, “It was certainly a challenging trip.” “It was hard work,” said John Anderson, MD, “but it was very rewarding.”

This was Anderson’s first trip with Canvasback. Accompanying him to Majuro were his wife Jeanette and son and daughter. While Dr. Anderson operated on orthopedic cases, his family helped in the clinic during the morning, and ran community children’s programs in the afternoon. The Andersons are from Portland, Ore., and they attend Hood View Adventist Church. Anderson practices medicine at Portland Adventist Medical Center.

Anderson felt lucky to perform some surgeries that had never been done in Majuro. The orthopedic team did four uni-compartmental knee replacements and one ACL reconstruction—the first of their kinds at the hospital.

Henderson was glad to have a number of pediatric cases.

Henderson said, “We [treated] more children on this trip than I’ve done on any other. There was a preponderance of huge cases.” Correcting children’s orthopedic problems is important because it prevents future problems and limitations. “We fixed at least four or five kids’ arms, allowing them to work normally in the future. Without treatment, they would have been left with deformed arms.”

After the team left, Robert Wells, MD, stayed a few extra days to make sure all post-op patients were infection-free until discharge. Wells, an orthopedic surgeon from Portland, Ore., has been working with Canvasback for decades and has been invaluable to the mission. His wife Susan Wells and grandson Jakob Voorhies accompanied him on this mission, working in the clinic and at Canvasback’s Wellness Center.

Canvasback Missions operates in the Micronesian islands with two goals. One: to reverse the epidemic of diabetes in Micronesia. Two: to provide specialty medical teams that are otherwise unavailable to the people of Micronesia.

Although Canvasback’s work is largely medical, all are welcome to be a part of the mission. “I think there’s a role for everyone,” said Anderson. “You don’t have to have medical training to contribute. It really gives perspective on the world and causes you to grow. Just because you’re not a surgeon doesn’t mean you can’t come out and help.”

Henderson has similar sentiments: “It’s a way in which you can combine service to individuals, service to humanity as a whole, and adventure. It’s quite a unique opportunity.” It’s also important to note that Canvasback works with volunteers from all over—not just the Pacific Northwest. For some reason, though, there does seem to be a lot of talent in that area.

All three orthopedists look forward to joining Canvasback on future missions to the Marshall Islands or to the Federated States of Micronesia.