Spine Surgery in Gabon, Africa

In Gabon, like in most African countries, complex spine surgery is rarely performed. The nation has an extreme lack of trained orthopedic and neurological spine surgeons and limited resources to purchase expensive medical equipment or spinal implants. 

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The Hunt Foundation: Training Local Surgeons on Advanced Spine Surgeries

The Hunt Foundation is actively involved in training surgeons in Gabon on advanced spine surgeries to bring about greater equity in healthcare to the people of the country. Our efforts include purchasing equipment and implants, updating hospitals with modern equipment, and training surgeons on the surgical techniques and processes commonly used in the USA. The needs in Gabon are severe, with many patients unable to have life-saving surgeries, and we are working diligently to help the medical professionals in the country gain access to the training and equipment they need to treat patients. 

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The Hunt Foundation: Our First Journey to Gabon

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 in Libreville, a 49-bed medical clinic equipped with four operating rooms. 

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Training Local Surgeons in Advanced Spine Surgeries

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 on spine surgeries, along with several medical residents at the hospital.

Fulfilling a Critical Need in Gabon

During their stay in Gabon, both brothers recognized the challenges of performing surgeries in a disenfranchised region. For Gabriel, three patients had extensive tumors, but the hospital lacked 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.

The Challenges: Performing Advanced Spine Surgeries in Gabon

For Leonel, one of the major problems was having enough light to see. During one surgery, he was forced to put a flashlight on his forehead because the overhead lights were so poor. Gabon has infrastructure issues that lead to frequent blackouts that can occur during surgery, adding to the challenges faced by the doctors. 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.”

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