Thursday morning Project HOPE volunteer Dr. Neelakantan Sunder, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, was involved in a life-changing surgery for Haitian police officer Roosevelt Baptiste. Baptiste was injured during the January 12 earthquake but had no symptoms until this week, when he began to feel some pain in his neck. When a clinic in Port-au-Prince took X-rays, they found a massive dislocation between his C5 and C6 vertebrae.
"The spine had moved so much that any further movement could have left him paralyzed in all four extremities," related Dr. Sunder. Baptiste was immediately put into a hard collar, ordered to bed rest and put onto a helicopter to the Comfort.
Dr. Sunder's job was to anesthetize the patient and to insert a tube into the airway to control his breathing. In the four-hour surgery, with Baptiste facedown, Navy neurosurgeon Dr. Sam Critides shifted the spinal column back into line and inserted screws to keep it in place.
Meanwhile in the pediatric unit, Baptiste's daughter Rose-Naika, 3, played with a brand new Barbie doll-- a gift from a nurse-- while his wife, Reau Roselie, who is five months pregnant, nervously read from her Bible until word came that the surgery was a success.
"Everything went smoothly, like clockwork, today. [Dr. Critides] did a very nice job and the patient is looking great," said Dr. Sunder. He was elated as he discussed the procedure. "It's exciting for a lot of reasons. Every medical practice is so busy that we don't have enough time, so it's not often that we get to know the patient's family and their whole background, status in life and how the procedure affects them. Here, you get to see all aspects of a person, which is kind of nice."
It reminded him of his family-- who have always encouraged his humanitarian work-- wife Marie, daughter Diana, 18, a freshman in college, and son Dennis, 16 a junior in high school. "You think about your own and think how lucky and blessed we are to have healthy families."
This is Dr. Sunder's second volunteer mission with Project HOPE, having spent three weeks in Indonesia after the tsunami.
Photos and story by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.
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