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The Peruvian-Hartford Connection: Bringing Medical Care to the Underserved

July 06, 2018

For the past 12 years, a volunteer team of medical experts from Connecticut join the charitable organization Dreaming and Working Together in Lima, Peru, for a weeklong mission to help the medically underserved population there by providing various types of spinal surgeries, dental care and prosthetic and rehabilitative services. This year’s team consisted of physicians,  prothetists, physical, occupational and speech therapists and students and was led by several staff members from Hartford HealthCare, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Dr. Subramani Seetharama, Eric and Rachel Smullen, Sharon Nicoll, Ken Bruno, Jake Awruch and Liz Robitaille. “I joined this mission two years ago on the therapist team and experienced firsthand the overwhelming emotion that the patients experience when they receive a prosthesis,” said Eric Smullen, the Vice President of Rehabilitation for the Hartford HealthCare Community Network.  “We served patients of all ages with both upper and lower limb amputations resulting from congenital defects, infections, diabetes and traumatic accidents. Many of these patients live in significant poverty and travel up to 20 hours by bus to receive care.” This year, the volunteers from Dreaming and Working Together, which was founded by Hartford Hospital’s Hernando Garcia and Dr. Wakefield, treated close to 100 patients at the Daniel Alcides Carrion National Hospital, providing medical services ranging from spinal surgery to prosthetic-fitting to pediatric rehabilitative care.  Wakefield, a neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital who heads up the surgical arm of the mission, collaborated with staff, five residents and four attending physicians and performed 14 surgical procedures. Two of residents have visited Hartford Hospital for three months of on-site observation and training and the hospital hopes to send another resident this year. Two years ago the hospital invested in a, endovascular suite to provide advanced care in the treatment of intracranial vascular pathology and they also hope to acquire a lumbar retractor set. Dr. Wakefield reports that he has seen remarkable advancements in their neurosurgical program, spinal care and new procedures being performed. For the patients who received care, it means that pain is alleviated, mobility is restored and functionality returns.  Many patients had waited years – some even a lifetime – for such a transformative, life-changing moment. “The patients we see would never have the opportunity to receive this type of care because of the expense,” Smullen said.  “As a physical therapist, my passion has always been to help people overcome their impairments and disabilities whatever they may be. It is incredibly rewarding to feel the genuine gratitude these people have and experience the overwhelming joy of seeing people see themselves as ‘whole’ again. “All 22 of the people who participated in this year’s mission have stories of the strength of the human spirit that brings them to tears and we are all grateful for the opportunity that we have been given to serve." Those interested in helping to support the work that Dreaming and Working Together does in Peru can sign up for an upcoming fundraising event being at the Hartford Yard Goats game on Aug. 3.  Tickets for the event ($30) include a Dreaming and Working Together Peru T-shirt and $6 in Yard Goats Bucks. Please contact Sharon Nicoll at Sharon.Nicoll@hhchealth.org to purchase tickets or for more information.