Dr. Asif Ilyas treating leprosy patients in India

Serving patients during a surgical mission trip

Asif M. Ilyas, MD November 25th, 2015

I recently returned from India where I participated on a surgical mission trip. I was recruited to participate on this mission by an international NGO (non government organization), the Leprosy Mission Trust, that has been treating leprosy patients in India for over a hundred years. Leprosy patients are among the poorest of the poor in India. Leprosy is caused by a common bacteria normally found in the environment but in people in areas with poor sanitation and weakened immune systems some remain vulnerable to it. Once infected, Leprosy causes a number of problems including skin and nerve problems resulting in problems with the musculoskeletal system such as non-healing wounds, muscle atrophy, claw hands, foot drops, etc.

In late October on a Friday evening, I took a 14-hour direct flight to New Delhi arriving Saturday. After a night in the airport hotel, I took a local two-hour flight Sunday to the state that I was visiting. After an additional three-hour drive from the local airport to the hospital, I was joined with the local reconstructive surgeon, the medical director, occupational therapist, and nurses to begin rounding on approximately 60 patients that had been recruited for this camp. We rounded on each patient and indicated whomever we could for operative intervention. We began operating early Monday morning.

Working with the local surgeon there, we did approximately 30 surgeries over the next four days. This included a number of claw hand reconstructions, thumb reconstructions, foot drop correction, and several amputations of the upper and lower extremity for invasive wounds.

I was struck by a number of things on this trip: the patients were in great need and were most gracious, deferential, and appreciative. The mission hospital staff was extremely hard working and deeply sincere in the care of these sick and poverty-stricken patients. India as a country is an amazing place: it is a large country, an open and democratic society, highly diverse in religion and language, steeped in a long and rich history, but saddled with over-population and poor infrastructure. Medically, I would consider India to be an “expertise-rich but resource-poor” environment where most do not have access to adequate healthcare. Trips like these remind me to not take for granted what we have here in America as well as to re-affirm why I went into medicine and became a surgeon.

Overall, it was a physically tiring but personally gratifying trip. My gracious hosts have asked me to return. I left them with my intention to try and return every 12 to 18 months. However, by the end of the trip I was eager to return to my family and my team at the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute.

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