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Health Team

Duke Surgical Team Returns From Medical Mission

Posted August 31, 2007 5:21 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2007 3:43 p.m. EDT

— A Duke surgical team has returned from a medical mission in the African nation of Uganda.

The hospital launched a first of its kind program to donate surplus medical equipment paired with training to countries in need. The move transformed a facility with a million dollar boost in technology.

Before August, the Mulago National Hospital was decades behind in medical technology. It had one anesthesia machine and no oxygen or blood pressure monitors.

“Some of their surgeons are very well trained, and they just didn’t have the equipment," said Duke Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Haglund.

Haglund said he discovered the need during a church mission trip and then tapped into Duke's vast supply of used surplus equipment. He and a 28-member surgical team delivered it all in person, along with their expertise.

“I think they were just blown away by the amount. I think they had no idea when we said we were bringing a lot of equipment that we were really bringing 9 tons of medical equipment,” he said.

While technicians installed the equipment, doctors faced 100 people in need of complex neurosurgery, but they could only help less than half of them. Haglund said he knew it would be the toughest part of his visit.

“Looking people in the eye and saying, ‘Yes, we can save your life,’ and you're going to have to look other people in the eye and say no,” he said.

Using new anesthesia machines, operating microscopes and surgical tools, the team removed brain and spinal cord tumors. Children who were paralyzed could walk again.

Ugandan staff shadowed the Duke staff and learned how to use the new equipment. Even the recovery rooms were transformed.

“The recovery room was basically just a barren room, and now it's set up just as nice as one of our recovery rooms at Duke,” Haglund said.

A deputy director of the hospital might have said it best.

“He turned to one of his colleagues and said, ‘We're no longer a third world. We're first world now,’” Haglund recalled.

Duke officials plan to continue their support with future training. They also plan to send surplus medical equipment to other countries.