Emma Fu, MD
Emma Fu, MD
Anesthesiology · Cleveland, OH

Pediatric Anesthesia for Reconstructive Surgery

February 16th
Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia

Project Description

The Milwaukee Medical Mission (MMM) is an independent organization that makes yearly trips to Central and South America to provide surgical care for patients requiring plastic reconstructive surgery in under-served areas. These patients would typically not receive needed surgical and medical care due to economic hardship.

For two weeks in February 2024, I was granted the opportunity to volunteer with MMM. As a resident from Cleveland, I will be providing anesthesia alongside board-certified pediatric anesthesiologists from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa to children for plastic reconstructive surgery. This would consist of correction of congenital malformations and defects, such as cleft lip/palate, and burn wound care at the University Hospital of Santandar. These surgeries are often life-changing, affecting swallowing, speech, and even integration into society.

Population Served

During the trip, I will be able to provide safe anesthesia for children with congenital malformations/defects and burns from underserved areas of Bucaramanga at the University Hospital of Santandar. In Bucaramanga, there is reduced access to reconstructive surgery and these children would otherwise likely not undergo surgery at all. I hope to make a meaningful contribution to these children’s lives by being able to provide safe anesthesia for these patients.

Expected Impact

For the children who will undergo cleft lip/palate surgery, the impact will be lifelong. The MMM have built relationships with the community in Bucaramanga and are invited back yearly to provide the surgical and medical care for these patients. We will be working side by side with the medical staff, including medical students and residents. By collaborating with the staff at the University Hospital of Santandar, I hope to be able to learn from and also teach the medical students and residents I will be working with.

I am fortunate enough to be invited to attend in 2024 with the MMM in my final year of residency. The impact on my personal and professional growth will be immense. This trip will allow me to practice and strengthen my skills of communicating and connecting with patients from different cultural backgrounds, specifically Spanish speaking populations, which we serve in Cleveland as well. Furthermore, I plan on pursuing global health initiatives during my career and will be able to bring back knowledge of providing safe anesthetic care in low resource areas to my co-residents and the anesthesia department in general.

Trip Photos & Recap

Our first day was clinic day, where the surgeons and anesthesiologists filtered through roughly 280 patients. In the two weeks that followed, we were able to operate on approximately 80 of those patients for cleft lip/palate, other congenital abnormalities, and burns. It was awe-inspiring to be a part of this group and provided such care for the Colombian patients we saw. Some of these patients drove 10+ hours to receive our care.

In addition to the surgeries, I was invited to lecture the anesthesiology residents at the University of Santander on POCUS. With a hands-on approach, we worked on cardiac, lung, gastric, and airway ultrasound. They explained to me the resources they have available when traumas come in to the operating room and I learned a lot from them too. With some additional time, we also went over some peripheral nerve blocks they do not perform.