Two Brothers Perform Life-changing Surgeries in Gabon
For spinal surgeon Leonel Hunt, MD, and neurosurgeon Gabriel Hunt, MD, performing advanced surgeries is common and critical in saving lives. But the two brothers, who practice at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, felt it was time to take their expertise to a place in great need – Gabon, West Africa.
This is something we've always wanted to do—philanthropic work to help those who can't help themselves," says Leonel.
In Gabon, like in most African countries, complex spine surgery is not performed due to the lack of expertise and the cost of equipment and spinal implants. On August 6, the Hunt brothers set off on a week-long journey to perform brain and spine procedures at two hospitals as part of the Gabon Project, a program in conjunction with the African Health Foundation, DePuy Spine, the Johnson & Johnson operating company and NuVasive that provided free implants for the surgeries.
The Hunts, accompanied by a team of eight other professionals, performed seven life-saving surgeries at the Military Hospital, which has a 10-bed neurological wing, and El Rapha, a 49-bed medical clinic equipped with four operating rooms.
At El Rapha, only one neurosurgeon is available to treat some head trauma, and he is not experienced or equipped to treat patients with spinal injuries. During their week-long stay, the Hunts trained the neurosurgeon, as well as several medical residents who work in the hospital.
During their stay in Gabon, both brothers recognized the challenges of performing surgeries in a disenfranchised region. For Gabriel, three patients had very large tumors, but the hospital didn't have the right equipment to remove them. "It hurts to see patients truly in need and know that you have the knowledge to help them, but not the resources," says Gabriel.
For Leonel, one of the major issues he faced was simply having enough light to see. During one surgery, he was forced to put a flashlight to his forehead because the overhead lights were so poor. Frequent blackouts also caused problems during surgeries.
Despite the challenges, Leonel says the triumphs they had in Gabon far outweighed the challenges. For example, they performed two traumatic spinal surgeries. Without those surgeries, the patients would more than likely have died.
"Living in Beverly Hills where people have a lot, there is at times a feeling of entitlement. But in Gabon, it was a totally different story," explains Leonel. "The appreciation that the patients and their families showed us was remarkable. We performed a discectomy on one patient, and he said to us prior to the surgery, 'Thank you for not just coming to visit my country.' So, in my eyes, that surgery alone was worth the 18-hour trip."
The Gabon Project is just the beginning of an ongoing effort to provide support for the facilities in Gabon and educational programs to train physicians and nurses to care for critical patients. Over time, the Gabon Project will span the continent of Africa, Asia, Central America and South America.