Jennifer Gabbard, surgical assistant to Dr. Shewmake, passing out the hugs.
Cameras in operating rooms are “a revolutionary way to teach”
LITTLE ROCK – Kris Shewmake, MD, a plastic surgeon in Little Rock, participated in a number of medical mission trips to Honduras where he would operate from sunup to sundown helping a lot of people, but having little personal interaction with doctors or patients. So in 2003 he and his son went down to Honduras on a mission trip to help build homes in the mountains. While there, the owner of a small private hospital invited him to come teach.
His next mission trip in 2004 was teaching at the private hospital. He found that suited him much better than just operating. And that evolved into Shewmake being invited in 2006 to teach at the 1,800-bed teaching hospital in Honduras, Hospital Escuela. Thus began a new model of medical missions where highly skilled physicians from not just Arkansas, but a number of other states, participate in Operation New Life surgical mission teaching programs that are helping people in some of the more impoverished regions of the world.
The model is similar to the old story that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for life. With the surgical teaching mission, American physicians are not just operating on patients during a short visit, but helping foreign doctors and other medical staff learn cutting-edge procedures to improve the lives of their patients throughout the year.
Jim Phillips, executive director of Operation New Life, said the first teaching team in 2006 included Shewmake and Bill Alfonso, DDS, who specializes in oral maxillofacial surgery. From there it has grown each year with general surgeon John Nash, MD, Little Rock, joining in 2007, and oral maxillofacial surgeon Rob Lewis, DDS, Rogers, and Bruce Jones, MD, general surgeon, Jonesboro, coming on board in 2008.
“The following year we added a burn team from Tulsa under the direction of Gene Dickens, MD, and another general surgeon, John Baker MD, Little Rock. About that time Barry Sorrells, MD, Little Rock, and Robert McGinley, MD, Mobile, Ala., both orthopedic surgeons, joined the team and Sorrells worked on putting in a Learning Center. He has helped put in Learning Centers in all over the world. The one we established in Honduras is only one in Central America.”
Recently an OB-GYN team from Iowa was added under the direction of Larry Severidt, MD. Operation New Life has also had surgeons volunteer from Australia, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama.
“As word got out and people heard we were not just doing surgeries, but working with doctors and residents teaching new techniques, that model has really taken off. The specialties continue to grow,” Phillips said. “Recently Dr. Sorrels headed an orthopedic team that went down, and we had a new ENT team directed by Chris Perry, MD from Toledo, Ohio.”
Phillips said there has been a tremendous positive impact on the hospital that previously had little ongoing education onsite. Physicians had to leave the country to get skills upgraded.
Phillips said it is very rewarding to have six to eight teams per year of high caliber surgeons going down to have an impact on the third poorest country in our hemisphere where the average income is less than $900 per year.
“It is also exciting to see the generosity of doctors so willing to take time from their practices and family, paying their own expenses to go down there, seeing their caring and giving hearts,” Phillips said. “From my standpoint as a facilitator, I am blessed to provide a vehicle to facilitate the physicians using their talents to treat and do surgeries and teach in a country that desperately needs help.”
Sorrells said prior to his retirement, he began to pray for what he wanted to do when he had more time.
“I didn’t want to play golf and play cards, and to work in the same field would be ideal,” Sorrells said. “I found out about this teaching mission ministry, and decided that was perfect for me. I went down a couple times with them before I ever did surgery. It looked like ideal place for what we call a Learning Center. I had a good bit of experience with Learning Centers around the world, as my avocation later in life has been to teach internationally.”
Sorrells said they put in high quality digital cameras in the operating room that allow an absolutely beautiful view of surgical procedures. It is much better than standing in an operating room watching surgery. More people can view it and no one has to be sterile.
“When we put cameras in at the Learning Center in Tegucigalpa, at first we telecast to a conference room in the building, and then to a local hotel ballroom able to accommodate more doctors and nurses. Finally, this past May, we telecast on the Internet. We sent that video throughout the world. We have a system where people can send questions by chat that surgeons can immediately answer. It is a revolutionary way to teach. This is what we have used for orthopedic surgery, and our goal to use for other surgical procedures as well.”
Why does Sorrells go on the missions?
“I go because I feel like God wants me to go,” said Sorrells who practiced in Little Rock 35 years before retiring from the Arkansas Knee and Sports Clinic. “My wife Lynda goes with me, she and Dr. Alfonso’s wife Sandra, have established a prayer and visitation outreach and they go throughout the hospital leading a prayer team. God gave us the idea, has overseen it and has assured that it works.
“Professionally, I have been a teacher a greater part of my life. I love teaching, and this is an opportunity to operate on a limited basis and teach on a large basis. When we leave they have the equipment and knowledge. I can assure you the doctors I taught there recently are using some of those procedures as I sit here in Little Rock.”
His goal is to reproduce the model with other surgical specialties.