A chance meeting at the Masters Tournament in August, Ga. led to a conversation that changed Dr. Justin Bundy’s life and the lives of dozens of children in Jamaica suffering from spinal deformities.
Dr. Bundy, who is board certified in orthopedic surgery and operates at Doctors Hospital of Augusta, met up with Dr. Robert Brady, a Connecticut surgeon who runs the Straight Caribbean Spine Foundation, at the tournament.
As he learned about the foundation, which sends teams of medical professionals to Jamaica twice a year to perform spine-straightening surgery on children with scoliosis, Dr. Bundy knew he had to get involved.
“As Dr. Brady talked about the things he is passionate about, and these mission trips, I said I would be interested in going,” Dr. Bundy said. “We stayed in touch, and I went for the first time this past May.”
Dr. Bundy was in Jamaica for six days, during which time he and other surgeons performed more than two dozen surgeries. They brought in all their equipment, which was necessary in a country that has medical facilities and a children’s hospital in Kingston, but does not have the money or infrastructure for such complicated operations.
“The children’s hospital had the staff to handle post-surgical care, but there is a huge void in that there is no one in Jamaica who can actually do this surgery,” Dr. Bundy says. “In a big center, they may do several of these surgeries a week. In Jamaica, it’s only happening twice a year because there’s no one to do it. It’s truly Third World; some of these kids have never seen antibiotics, so a dose of those goes a long way. The facilities’ staff is just exceptional, but the facilities themselves are very limited because the area is so poverty stricken.”
The children recover fairly quickly and within six months are back to normal activities. The foundation usually limits operations to adolescents from ages 10 to 16, but has performed surgery on children as young as 5 or 6 years old. Most of the patients suffer from idiopathic scoliosis, and have severely curved spines, while some have neuromuscular scoliosis due to conditions such as cerebral palsy.
During his May visit, Dr. Bundy realized that there wouldn’t be enough time to operate on the 70 to 80 children who had traveled to Kingston in hopes of receiving the surgery, known as a cast correction and spinal fusion. That strengthened his resolve to return as soon as possible, so he made a follow-up visit in October 2012. At the same time, he has worked to get the word out to other physicians who might be able to make the trip.
“Physically you’re exhausted, emotionally you’re spent, but when you see the difference you’ve made, and how many more need help, it’s something you want to continue for a lifetime,” Dr. Bundy says. “When I came home I was beyond grateful to have the technology and the facilities that we have here. People just don’t understand that until they go to a place where they have nothing. And I really felt ashamed for taking for granted what we have here, so I try to be more aware of the quality, and the expertise, of healthcare in the United States.”