Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Surgeon in the Village: an American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Aftrica

A Surgeon in the Village: an American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Africa
Tony Bartelme
Beacon Press, 2017. 274 pgs. Biography

Brilliant, newly minted neurosurgeon Dilantha Ellegala decides to go to a hospital in a remote area of Tanzania for a change of pace and the opportunity to share his surgical skills for a few months. Discovering that the hospital has almost zero surgical tools that he needs to do surgery on the brain he relaxes and enjoys himself until one day a patient in need of immediate brain surgery arrives at the clinic. With no tools Ellegala declines to treat the patient and goes out for a run. While running he sees a man cutting a tree with a wire saw that Ellegala realizes he can adapt and use to cut through a skull. He buys the saw, goes back to the hospital and uses it to do the needed surgery. This event opens his eyes to possibilities he hadn’t considered before and he begins not only doing surgery with makeshift equipment he finds or devises – he also starts training one of the local medical officers (not a full doctor) to do brain surgery. He realizes that the normal routine of sending trained doctors from Europe or America to spend a few months at a rural hospital in an underdeveloped county is a flawed model. The surgeons return to their homes leaving the hospitals without surgeons. In his mind, the answer was to train local doctors and medical personnel to do surgery, not come for a short time and be the super star surgeon who goes home and leaves the local area still lacking a surgeon.

This book is the story of his awakening to the urgent need for trained surgeons in Africa and other underdeveloped nations and his work to establish a nonprofit organization with the aim of training local surgeons.  The book is very well written with beautiful descriptions of the landscape and the people he encounters.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the work of non-profit organizations  and is not afraid to read the graphic descriptions of urgent medical emergencies. SH

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