Finding Rewards Through International Service - San Blas, Mexico
Traveling to underdeveloped countries to work with poor patients in need of health care is nothing new to second year Feinberg School student Michael A. Granieri. He just returned from his third service trip, this time to San Blas, Mexico, where he worked alongside Chris Gonzalez, MD, MBA, associate professor of urology, and two urology residents to treat 50 patients and perform six major surgeries in just two days.
The need for the care was overwhelmingly apparent, says Granieri, 26, of Burr Ridge, Illinois. "We had patients come from all over western Mexico after hearing about the free care through advertisements on local radio." It wasn't uncommon for whole families to travel 8 to 10 hours for the chance to see the urologist and his medical team. Many of the patients were agriculture workers who toiled in sugar plantations around Mexico. It was an extraordinary event to have a urologist visit the distressed town.
The team was able to treat dozens of patients for incontinence, frequent urination, inability to urinate, and lower back pain, and they performed two urethral reconstructions on two young men, age 16 and 24, who had had traumatic accidents years earlier and still needed major surgery.
"You can imagine the social issues these young men had having a tube in their belly to drain their urine," said Dr. Gonzalez. The team also performed a few serious hernia repairs and circumcisions as they worked 12-hour days in three small operating rooms.
Granieri served as the intake worker at the clinic, using his conversational Spanish skills to take medical histories from the patients. A translator helped as well. Some of the patients brought medical files and X-rays with them, which helped the process run fairly smoother. When he wasn't in the clinic, Granieri was able to serve as a scrub tech in the operating room and shadow the surgeries.
Granieri said he was most surprised by the complexity, severity and variety of cases. "As a second year medical student you read about these pathologies in textbooks but to see it firsthand was an incredible learning experience," he said. "For the surgical patients we saw, their quality of life was severely compromised. It was great to work as a team to heal them back to a more healthy and normal life."
The Feinberg student has been on two other service trips. Last Spring break he went to South Dakota to work on an Indian Reservation and during the summer he went on a primary care health service trip to Nicaragua through NU-AID, the Northwestern University Alliance for International Development. The student-run volunteer organization provides much needed primary care in Latin America and Jamaica.
"When I was in Nicaragua, we saw many people who needed surgical care that we could not directly provide, so my passion is to raise awareness about the need that's out there and work on creating available trips for medical students through fundraising," Granieri says.
There are surgeons who conduct service trips, and there is great student interest in being involved in surgical service trips, so Granieri hopes to work on improving communication and publicity about those opportunities and try to get needed financing.
Dr. Gonzalez, who is coordinator for the international surgical relief program established in Northwestern's Department of Urology, has organized similar trips to Morocco, Honduras, China, and Ecuador. His passion stems from his service and experience with the Army National Guard, where he was first introduced to the need worldwide.
Dr. Gonzalez said a grateful patient of his paid for Granieri's airfare so that he could make the trip. "This is the second time we've done this service trip to Mexico. The need there is great. I'd like to continue to do it on an annual basis."
This page last updated Sep 13, 2011