An HFMA member traded in the open spaces of northern Texas for the towering mountains of southern Peru in a bid to help subsistence farmers through potentially devastating injuries. 

Kevin Briggs is not a farmer, but he has seen the impact of orthopedic injuries on subsistence farmers in Peru’s impoverished south and their ability to make ends meet.

“If a farmer is injured and unable to work, then his son is pulled out of school to farm for the family,” Briggs says about the life of farmers in the Peruvian Andes. “That sprained ankle can dramatically alter the lives of these people.”

Briggs heard about the need for quality orthopedic care in an area of southern Peru through personal contacts and sought the help of other HFMA members to address it. At an HFMA Lone Star Chapter meeting, Briggs and a small group of HFMA members began laying the groundwork for what eventually became an August 2013 medical mission to Coya, Peru.

“We all knew that we could do this, and our professional relationships enabled us to put something together, but there was a tremendous amount of learning that had to happen in this effort,” Briggs says.

The mission brought 21 volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and laypeople to provide care for 300 patients. The treatments included orthopedic surgery for 43 injured residents of this rugged mountainous region.

“On the first morning of the clinic, there were 120 people lined up at the door for care,” Briggs says about the 10-day mission.

The organizational efforts of Briggs and the other HFMA members established the not-for-profit Texas de Peru, a part of Lone Star Healthcare Missions, not only to find the mission volunteers, but also to raise $75,000 to fund the mission and buy arthroscopic equipment for the local clinic. The new surgical equipment (in addition to medical equipment and supplies donated by Baylor Healthcare’s Faith in Action Initiatives) will expedite procedures by surgeons who visit the Kausay Wasi Clinic, such as the replacement of a two-hour ACL surgery requiring an overnight stay with a 20-minute outpatient procedure.

“For our first mission, it seemed like a no-brainer to focus on the specialty that would be the most successful there,” Briggs said.

The mission was not without challenges. In addition to complications that arose from shipping the medical equipment to a rugged part of a foreign country, there were also cultural norms that the visiting volunteers tried to learn to ease the patients’ concerns. For example, the local indigenous population has an aversion to the traditional Latin American affinity for embracing and kissing strangers.

For Briggs, the biggest lesson was careful planning and including the right people for the mission.

“If you start off with the right people, have maximum flexibility, expect that something is going to go wrong, and are prepared for it, then you’ll be fine,” he says. “We paid extra careful attention to bringing in the right people.”

Briggs and the other leaders of the initiative aspire to grow Texas de Peru to serve multiple countries and diverse medical needs. But in the short run, they are planning their second annual mission back to the town near Machu Picchu. The mission this August will provide gynecological services to the village.

In addition to the humanitarian benefits of the initiative, Briggs says it became a powerful example of HFMA’s mission to foster healthcare leaders.

“It’s been a very pleasant surprise what a tremendous leadership growth exercise this turned out to be for me and everyone else who made the trip,” Briggs says.

Publication Date: Monday, March 03, 2014

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