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Students join Duke neurosurgeons on life-changing trip to Uganda

Posted March 15

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— Twice a year, fellows and students from Duke University Hospital's neurosurgery department visit Uganda to train surgeons, but this time, for the first time in the program's history, eight middle school boys will be a part of the adventure.

Dr. Michael Haglund said the experience is both a religious and professional one, tied to improving the health in impoverished settings and diversifying the neurosurgery corps. For the students from Durham's Nativity School, the experience has been described as life changing.

"You're a kid and you want to travel the world and you're like, 'How am I going to get there?' So, an opportunity just popped up, and you just take it," said eighth-grader Edgar Salazar.

Haglund said the decades-old program will be a great experience for the children.

"If (we) could give them an amazing experience that would be off the charts. What did you do for Spring Break? We went to Africa," Haglund said.

Durham Nativity School offers a private school education at no cost to about 50 boys from low-income homes. Duke is paying for the trip.

"Maybe they might not be interested in going into the medical field, but after this experience in Uganda that might change their mind quickly," said Ricky Oliver, a school social worker.

Zoeta Zigbuo, a 14-year-old eighth grader, said he is interested in medicine.

"I've always known that I wanted to become some type of surgeon," he said. "Dr. Haglund told us we would be able to watch him perform a surgery."

The goal of Duke's program is to increase the number of neurosurgeons in Uganda from nine to 25 by the year 2025. The country currently has five neurosurgeons for 30 million people.

One of the primary goals of the students is to meet other children in Uganda. They plan to bring soccer balls and equipment to share with the kids there.

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