Day 1: Dakar

For more than 11 years, Francis Schneck, M.D., a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC urologist, has traveled to Africa with one goal in mind—to provide critical urological care to suffering children who otherwise don’t have access to the kind of expertise provided by Dr. Schneck and the international team he’s traveling with.

He is currently in Africa alongside a team of medical professionals who will educate primary care providers in surgical care, while providing complex urological care to hundreds of children. While in Africa, Dr. Schneck will be blogging about his life changing experiences, so please check back for more postings throughout the week!

Day 1: Dakar

The team, nine of us in total, landed in Dakar, Senegal on Sunday morning. The first thing you notice after you land is a distinctive smell as you walk across the tarmac; a pervasive smokey, sweet aroma I always look forward to because it reminds me of camping, and of course of being back in Africa. After a day and night of travel we were all tired, but what kept us going strong was the sense of being in an unfamiliar place, and the anticipation of what lay ahead. I only knew three members of the surgical workshop team: my fellow, Janelle, and my daughter, Sarah. The other pediatric urologist and anesthesia teams are from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, the two nurses from Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, and Ian, a fourth year medical student at Harvard Medical School who is severely addicted to international public health. By 4 p.m., we were in intake clinic evaluating the patients for the week of surgery ahead.

This is my 11th (or so) medical trip to Africa, and I have been team leader on 10 (or so). All but one has been with International Volunteers in Urology, a non-governmental organization or NGO founded by Catherine DeVries, MD, a pediatric urologist, almost 20 years ago. Its scope has significantly broadened over that period of time and is hugely successful. Based on the premise of “teach one, help many,” the workshops that teach local urologists pediatric surgical care are highly sought after all around the world. In all of sub-Saharan Africa, there are no pediatric urologists.

When you arrive at the hospital you never know exactly what to expect. But there are those things that always seem the same. All of the families sit very quietly in a long hallway, patiently waiting for your arrival. The children will stare, not knowing whether to “cry or wind their watch” (a Mike Lange or Penguins fan would understand that), and the parents sit up a little taller. Everyone is usually in their Sunday best. Many have made long journeys from the countryside. Once the kids have been weighed in and had their picture taken with their parents, they are led into the exam rooms. The unspoken contract is written then and there: They put their child’s care and future in our hands, and we pledge to do our best and not let them down. In less than two hours we have seen 30 kids with complicated conditions, and our work is cut out for us. OR begins in the morning.

Fran Schneck, MD, 22 April, 2012

About akunicky

Coordinator, Media Relations for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
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