Darien residents visit CURE hospital in Africa
A young woman crawls through the mud of an African market because her legs are so deformed they have folded over her back but no one pays any attention to her because she's just another beggar with a physical deformity to the locals.
Her name is Abba and she spent her entire life crawling over the ground with flip flops on her hands because her disability wouldn't allow her to walk. To her fellow villagers she was considered "cursed" and wouldn't warrant a second glance, but thanks to the efforts of CURE, an international nonprofit group focused on providing life changing surgeries for children, Abba was able to get her deformity corrected.
CURE opened its first hospital in 1998 and now operates hospitals in 10 different countries as well as provides medical training for local doctors. Tim Erickson, vice president of operations for CURE, said one of the biggest challenges for the organization is trying to address the medical needs of as many children as they can.
"The need is unending so we always need to keep training surgeons," Erickson said. "There are about 80 million to 100 million kids around the world who live with deformities. It's not like here in the United States where you have thousands of doctors and surgeons to treat problems. In East Africa there is one neurosurgeon per 10 million people."
That need for well-trained medical professionals eventually brought Erickson and Darien residents Jim and Carol Rumsey together after their daughter expressed a desire to spend her senior year at the Rift Valley Academy in Kenya which is also located near one of the CURE hospitals. However, Carol said many of her daughter's teachers advised against going to Africa except for Barbara Thorne who did some research on the school and thought it would be a learning experience.
"I checked the school out and I thought it would be a good opportunity for her," Barbara said.
Barbara and her husband, Marc, always wanted to travel to Africa and got their chance when they were invited to join the Rumseys and Erickson on a trip to visit the CURE hospital and see the surrounding area.
"It was wonderful to see the hospital and meet the people. To visit a kid in Ethiopia or Kenya is unforgettable," Marc said.
During their visit, the two Darien couples saw a number of children get treated for a variety of deformities.
"I watched some of the surgeries and it was amazing how good the doctors were," Carol said.
Making sure the surgeons who work in the CURE hospitals are well-qualified is important because many of them don't receive the proper training during their residencies, Ericson said.
"We're training surgeons to treat conditions they will see in their own countries. We get a lot of our surgeons from referrals but oftentimes after they leave the university they get placed into terrible residencies," Erickson said. "They might perform an operation on a person's club foot only a few times before they would be certified in their country to perform that surgery. We train them how to do the procedures and do them well."
Jim, who is a physical therapist, said he was impressed with the surgeries he was seeing performed, such as anterior cruciate ligament repairs and rotator cuff surgery as well as a variety of orthopedic work.
"They do a ton of work with American doctors to perform those types of surgeries that you wouldn't typically see over there," he said.
Since the first hospital opened, CURE has seen more than 1.5 million patients and performed surgeries on 121,000 people, Erickson said. However, despite the good will of the organization, corrupt governments can often slow down, or stop, additional hospitals from being constructed.
"We were working in Egypt for a number of years and we were trying to get a hospital built but the government kept stalling on signing off on the permits because they wanted a bribe of $300,000," Erickson said. "We don't do bribery so we eventually sold the land, but we still do surgeries there."
For Carol, Jim, Barbara and Marc, the opportunity to see how hard life is for people in developing nations is and the efforts being made to help people like Abba, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"In the third world where it's a manual labor society, when you're not mobile you are just a beggar. To see these treatments done, and done right, is just so important," Jim said.
If you are interested in learning more about CURE and its efforts to treat children and families with physical deformities, visit www.cure.org.