For the past 14 years Edmonton orthopedic surgeon Thomas Greidanus, ‘64 MD, has been leading an annual medical and dental mission to Ecuador, and Operation Esperanza (Operation Hope), as it is known, has always included many U of A alumni. In 2011, the volunteer team of 52 included a record number of alumni — 17 altogether — from the faculties of medicine & Dentistry, Nursing, rehabilitation Medicine, Education and the School of Business.
For 10 intense days each January, “Dr. Tom” and his surgical teams set up a clinic in the city of Cuenca, high up in the Andes, where men, women and children come limping in with swollen, painful joints, dislocated hips or twisted club feet. By fixing their patients’ joints, the team not only relieves their pain but also allows the adults to return to work and earn an income for their families.
This year, one woman was carried into the clinic on a chair. “Her arthritic hip was protruding into her pelvis,” remembers Tom. Another patient, a 70-year-old man, travelled six hours with nothing but a tree branch for a crutch to be treated for a severely arthritic hip. Both of these patients underwent surgery and were able to be discharged within two days.
During Operation Esperanza 2011, the volunteers saw about 250 patients; the surgical team conducted 39 hip-and-knee replacement surgeries; the pediatric team performed another 15 surgeries on children, and the dental team provided dental care to about 200 adults and children in outlying rural communities.
“We had some interesting treks this year, getting the equipment up the mountain to the schools and then back down to our bus — one day during a rainstorm,” remembers Vivien Wulff, ’78 BCom. Vivien, the chief operating officer of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, makes the trip annually to assist the dentists and hygienists. The children “very bravely” endured multiple procedures in makeshift dental clinics, she says.
“Every year there are more people than we can help,” says Tom. “But the patients are always incredibly grateful.”