It's been exactly a month since I returned from my last mission trip. It was my third trip to Africa, the first being two weeks duration, the second was three, and most recently a month. But, despite my increasing time spent there, it was just not enough. Throughout my last day there, people kept coming for evaluation. Most were routine problems, but one lingered in my mind. A lady showed up with a tracheostomy (a breathing tube in the low neck) that had been placed earlier. She had fairly extensive larynx cancer that had not yet spread into her neck but was progressively blocking her airway. The tracheostomy allowed her to breathe below the blockage. Larynx cancer often will not metastasize (spread) until late in the disease. She needed a laryngectomy - which given that she had no evidence of disease spread in the neck, would save her life. But, she had already eaten when she showed up in the afternoon, the OR schedule was full, and I was scheduled to leave early the next morning. A laryngectomy is not within the skill set of general surgeons. The next ENT to visit Tenwek will likely be in February. The only treatment alternative for larynx cancer is radiation therapy, which is available in Nairobi. But the costs of travel, lodging, and treatments far exceed this woman's financial resources. If she had only shown up one day earlier, we could have offered her a life saving operation. Instead, she'll return in February with the hopes that her cancer is still surgically curable.
While this was not as devastating as last year's final day at Tenwek (chronicled below), it serves as a painful reminder of how desperately needed surgical care is in Africa. The mission of PAACS to train and disciple surgeons to serve the poor in Africa becomes dearer to my heart with every day spent there. The long plane rides home gave me plenty of time to reflect - and to begin planning for my next trip. God continues to open my eyes to see both the need and the ways in which I can help. Your prayers for the people, the young African surgeons in training, and their American mentors are so needed!