Author Archives: Children's Surgery International

A day in Liberia for nurse anesthetist John Erlandson

CSI volunteer John Erlandson, CRNA shares what his days have been like on the Liberia mission:

It’s 0530 and the alarm goes off – it feels much earlier than it is. My body fights with my brain: My body wants to stay in bed, but the brain knows we have good work ahead today.  

I stumble to the dining hall and hazily greet my new friends on this journey of care. Some I’ve known from other CSI trips; others I met a few days ago. Coffee, a big breakfast, more coffee.  Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey.

I jump into the van, smooshed in with the 20 other volunteers and gradually wake as the sun kisses the sky and the plantation around us comes to life. By the time we reach Firestone Duside Hospital, I can feel the caffeine kicking in. We wash our hands in chlorine water before entering the hospital, and I head upstairs to the storage room and change into scrubs and then head into the OR to get set up for the day.  

After a thumbs up from my circulator nurse, Samantha Chaplin, I go get the first child. In pre-op I am greeted by many sets of eyes – those of the nervous/happy parents and those of the scared/unsure kids. I triple-check to make sure I am getting the correct child (such wonderful names like Blessing, Godgift, Favor, Miracle, Success), scoop the child up and head back to the OR. I sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” as we walk, and I get through two verses as we grab a brand-new, warm fleece blanket and settle onto the cold OR bed. Off to sleep you go, little tyke.


The surgeons (Drs. Janelle Fox, Nathan Kreykes, Trish Valusek and David Vandersteen) work their magic as I patiently monitor the little one and give medications that make them comfortable during and after the surgery. Once the procedure is done, I disconnect all of the monitors, scoop the child up in my arms and carry him/her to the recovery room – all swaddled up in the new, warm blanket, with my ear tilted down to listen for their breathing. Bursting into the recovery room, I exclaim, “Pannekoeken,” to let the nurses know we have a fresh arrival. After a quick check that they are still breathing well, I grab vital signs and depart.

Back in the OR, I quickly turn over breathing equipment and get medications ready for the next patient. I get a quick thumbs up from Samantha again and head back to pre-op for the next patient. 


The day becomes a little bit of a blur, but soon we are loading back into the van to trek back “home” to the Firestone guesthouse where a large dinner is waiting (along with a cold beer).

The warm evening passes quickly, chatting and playing games with my newfound friends. Then it’s off to bed. I keep thinking I’ll get to bed earlier each night, but it’s hard to pass up time with these friends. My brain is asleep before my head hits the pillow, and the next thing I know, it’s 0530 and the alarm goes off…


View more photos on CSI’s Flickr site.

Highlights from Liberia

Our CSI Liberia team is hard at work at Firestone Duside Hospital this week.  They are on pace to complete 110 surgeries during this mission. Our volunteers are also dedicated to building self-sufficiency through education for our medical partners in Liberia— bringing hope to children, families and communities around the world, one child at a time.

Here are some trip highlights from our team members:

Jerrlyne, 5 years, arrived for screening day after a three-hour motorcycle taxi ride with her mother, who heard on the radio about CSI’s visit to Firestone Duside Hospital. Yesterday, Jerrlyne went home after having her umbilical and inguinal hernias repaired. Her mother was so grateful.

Walking patients, or carrying them if they’re a baby, back to the OR is by far my favorite part of this mission. We do two surgeries in one OR and my partner CRNA John Erlandson was able to get some action shots. We each did 11 general surgeries – exhausting but all so worth it.

– CSI volunteer Patrick Faunillan, CRNA

CSI not only provides free surgical services to children in need – we teach others to do the same. CSI volunteer, Patty Akers, is pictured here sharing knowledge with her Liberian colleague Alice Sayndee, RN.

Tuesday morning we were greeted by the mothers in our 25-bed ward singing an amazingly lovely song for our benefit, complete with harmony, clapping and a parade around the post-surgical ward. It moved me to tears. If anyone’s counting, 37 patients, each with a parent, several siblings of the patients and seven nurses, made for over 87 beautiful people in one room. 

– CSI volunteer Cindy Markham, RN

Patience met the CSI Liberia team in 2010 after her mosquito netting caught fire, leaving her with severe burns. During the healing process, she was left with scars that hardened and shortened the area between her neck and shoulder. CSI performed surgery to repair this contracture, and now, 10 years later, she is able to move her head freely. “CSI was a beautiful gift,” Patience says.

– CSI volunteer Louann Randall, RN

Dr. Kevin Healy prepares for the week

Dr. Kevin Healy

We arrived at the Firestone guesthouse Friday night and were treated to a scrumptious dinner before turning in after our 24-hour trip from the United States. Saturday morning I had to be roused from my bed to go shopping. I bought two bolts of fabric that a local seamstress will turn into dresses for a granddaughter and some great-nieces. 

Sunday morning I woke up much better rested. We were out the door promptly at 7 a.m. and on our way to Firestone Duside Hospital, where many children and adults were waiting for us to be screened for surgery. I’m an anesthesiologist, so I spent the first part of the day looking for, unpacking and storing supplies. Mr. Peye, one of the Duside nurse anesthetists, briefed me on how to distinguish between a 110 and 220 volt outlet. I stocked my cart and set up my anesthesia machine and monitors. My big coup of the morning was guessing the password to set the clock on the monitor. It’s “biomed.” (Please keep that to yourself!)

After eating lunch with some of our hosts, I went to the screening clinic where I saw half a dozen patients for pre-op clearance. There I met a 10-year-old girl who was scheduled for an inguinal hernia repair. I talked  to her mother with the aid of one of the Liberian nurses and learned that the girl had bloody urine once a month. I talked her case over with Dr. Janelle Fox, one of our urologists, who was interested and got the girl’s surgery put on her schedule in case she needs a cystoscopy. 


It was a satisfying day, although I prefer the days that we do surgery. Tonight we’ll have another meal together, and I plan to turn in early as we leave for the hospital at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning for our first surgical day.

–Dr. Kevin Healy, CSI volunteer anesthesiologist

View more photos on CSI’s Flickr site.

CSI team experiences Liberia

Today was a perfect day in beautiful Harbel, Liberia with the CSI team and our Firestone hosts. Over a delicious lunch, we were visited by the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, and her leadership team.  

Afternoon activities included visiting an orphanage, where we gave the children beanie babies, donated by Irene Davidson and Rachel Leaf, and new backpacks provided by the Blaine National Sports Center.  We spent time playing and dancing with the precious children. And, of course, we also gave them deworming tablets followed by a sweet lollipop.  


Another unique opportunity was a tour of the Firestone Farm which included demonstrations of latex tapping and the grafting of rubber trees for optimal production at the Firestone nursery.

Late in the afternoon the CSI team was honored with the opportunity to visit Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP), a sanctuary for orphaned chimps.  There are 54 chimps at this sanctuary, all of which were full of life and very active. LCRP co-founder Jimmy Desmond gave us a great tour of the facilities and a history of the site and organization.


In the evening, the Firestone guesthouse staff served us a delicious BBQ dinner while we had a very informative presentation by Don Darden, General Manager of Firestone Liberia, Inc.  We learned about the history of the Firestone Farm and its contribution to Liberia and their people. 

It was indeed a great day!

–Cindy Markham, CSI volunteer RN


The CSI Liberia team is nearly complete. We anxiously await the arrival of volunteer RN Samantha Chaplin who is on her way after air travel delays—safe travels, Samantha!

View more photos on CSI’s Flickr site.

A sweet first day

After arriving late Wednesday evening, the advanced team of 11 people spent the day working on a community health initiative. We handed out 2,000+ pills to treat children for intestinal parasites that interfere with their nutrition, growth and development. DumDum suckers sweeten the medicine as it goes down. 

The locals were excited to see the arrival of the team, greeting us with song and dance.  Lora Koppel, mission lead, and Elyse Vandersteen, mission partner, were presented with flowers and a letter at Beautiful Blessings school as a show of appreciation for our work.  Tomorrow we will continue our service project, visiting additional schools and community centers outside the Fireside farm. 

–Katie Johnson, CSI medical records volunteer

Visit CSI’s Flickr page for more photos.


Spreading hope in Liberia

As a CSI team of 24 medical and support volunteers prepare to journey to Liberia next week, our partners at Firestone Hospital Duside are already hard at work recruiting patients for surgery. Word traveled throughout Western Africa this fall in the form of posters placed in common areas and radio announcements broadcasting an invitation for families to bring their children for pre-screening last month. When the CSI team arrives for screening day on January 18, CSI volunteer surgeons Janelle Fox, Nathan Kreykes, Trish Valusek and David Vandersteen will determine which cases can be completed during this mission.  

This streamlined process is thanks to a strong partnership with Firestone Natural Rubber. The corporation hosts CSI at Firestone Hospital Duside — a hospital on the Firestone Natural Rubber Plantation in Harbel, Liberia — and provides room and board for volunteers. In addition to a goal of completing 80 surgeries during this mission, CSI is committed to providing training and education for local personnel so they can continue this important work. 


Lora Koppel, RN and CSI board member, is the clinical lead for this trip. She was part of the team that first established CSI’s Liberia partnership in 2008 and has traveled on each mission since. Lora says she is continually impressed by the talent and determination of the staff at Duside and credits the mutual respect as being paramount to CSI’s success in Liberia.  “Everyone wants to be part of the team when we arrive.”

Duside RN Tetee Urey-Morris was so inspired by the mentorship of CSI nurses that she eventually joined CSI as a volunteer nurse, traveling to Ethiopia on the spring and fall 2019 missions. Lora sees Tetee’s evolution from in-country staff to CSI volunteer as proof of the lasting impact of CSI’s dedication to education.


Next week, Lora will be at Duside during screening day when dozens of children will be given a chance at life-changing surgery. It’s a happy day for many families, yet others will unfortunately not receive surgery. Lora is focused on helping them, too. The mother of a child who swallowed permanent hair solution, resulting in a  burned esophagus, reached out to CSI for help in advance of the upcoming trip. While surgery is not an option for this boy, Lora is working on collecting protein powder and a blender to provide this family with resources to give him better nutrition. Similarly, Lora shares, “Families have brought babies that may be too young for a cleft palate repair. We can’t add them to our schedule, but we can provide specialized bottles that will help with feeding.” 

Lora is proud of CSI’s commitment to providing some of the world’s neediest children with a chance for a better life, whether that be a surgical intervention, new resources or education for their in-country providers. Her hopes for this trip? “To continue being able to reach kids in remote areas that would otherwise not have access to healthcare. I want families to know that if they come forward we will try to help.”

New faces in the CSI office

Last month we bid farewell to our administrator, Sue Baysden, after 15 years of dedicated service to Children’s Surgery International. We celebrated Sue and wished her well in her upcoming retirement at our fall happy hour event.

Sue’s departure was a big change for CSI but also an opportunity. To help the organization meet the demands of our already busy trip schedule and look to the future, we made the decision to create two new part-time staff positions: one to focus exclusively on trip planning and execution and the other to focus on communications and office management. With this new structure, we are pleased to now have three part-time staff members supporting the work of our volunteers and partners. Executive Director Megan Sparks and the CSI board of directors are thrilled to welcome Lisa Masterson and Jen Nagorski to CSI. Read on to learn more about Jen and Lisa, who joined the team this fall.



Lisa Masterson, Mission Operations Manager

What’s your role at CSI?
As Mission Operations Manager, I coordinate the planning and implementation of CSI surgical trips. To create successful trips, I team up with CSI volunteers and country partners. I’m also working on process improvement initiatives, such as developing process and system integrations.

Why did you choose CSI?
The Mission Operations Manager role is a great fit because I geek out on processes, spreadsheets, logistics and building relationships. I also come to CSI with extensive experience in fundraising, logistics, project management and relationship building for nonprofit organizations. I also have a background in therapeutic recreation and child development. 

What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy working with all the CSI volunteers and country partners. They help me daily with providing information, timelines and history. This part-time position provides me the ability to work and have flexibility for my family.

How do you spend your time outside of work?
My three daughters, Isabella (10), Olivia (7) and Lauren (5), keep my husband, Larry, and I busy chauffeuring them to activities and friends. We spend our family time playing board games and watching movies. When I have time for myself, I enjoy playing softball, reading and hitting up local breweries and distilleries. 


Jen Nagorski, Office and Communications Manager

What’s your role at CSI?
As the Office and Communications Manager, I coordinate many of the day-to-day operations of the office such as donation entry, mailings and supplies. I also develop and coordinate messaging to support mission operations, fundraising and volunteer relations. This includes keeping our website and social media pages up to date and assisting with special events such as our fall happy hour and annual gala.

Why did you choose CSI?
I have a background in marketing and graphic design and most recently worked as a child life specialist helping patients and families cope with medical experiences. I first heard about CSI from a child life colleague who was a non-medical volunteer on a trip. When I saw a chance to join this dynamic organization, I knew it was a good fit. I never imagined I would find a role that so perfectly blends my communication and organizational skills with my passion for pediatric healthcare.

What do you love most about your job?
So far, my favorite part has been meeting all the people who make CSI a successful organization – volunteers, board members, donors. Everyone has been extremely welcoming and helpful. I also really enjoyed helping with social media and blog posts during our recent trip to Ethiopia. I couldn’t wait to open my email in the morning to see what good news the team had sent from the day before.

How do you spend your time outside of work?
My husband, Tony, and I spend most of our free time chasing around our 2-year-old daughter, Willow, and our mini dachshund, Clarence. We love to go to the park and the library or anywhere we can have donuts! I also enjoy sewing, reading and running.


Arriving home with full hearts

As we wait at the airport for our departure from Ethiopia, we reflect on the full and successful week of surgeries. Our team was 22 members strong. The numbers:

  • 118 children evaluated on screening day

  • 50 additional children came throughout the week and were put on our screening list for March 2020

  • 53 surgeries performed – 13 cleft palate repairs, 25 cleft lip repairs, 15 urology cases

  • 2 nursing lectures

  • Daily surgical teaching and collaboration

  • 2 cautery machines and box-loads of medical supplies donated

Our bodies are exhausted, our hearts are full – and we are inspired. Thank you to all of our supporters who make trips like this possible. We sign off with trip reflections from some of our team members.


John Chauss, CRNA:
There are not enough words to describe how beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking this mission has been. If we had the opportunity to use our gifts to give to this wonderful country every single day for the rest of my life, I would say “yes” unconditionally. 

Theresa Philbin, nurse:
Final day and this child is the perfect example of why We do what we do. With permission from him and his father….

Yihune is now 15 but was 14 when I met them last March. His complex urological problem meant that he had never been “dry.” He was incontinent and large diapers are cost prohibitive as well as difficult to find. He had stopped going to school but was taught at home by his father because he loved learning. In March he had a large surgery on his bladder, and I took care of him for 3 days, said goodbye and hoped.

November screening day Yihune walked in smiling, in a pair of jeans and told me about being in school. He had his second and final surgery. He is one of the many many reasons why CSI does what it does.

Megan Sparks, CSI Executive Director:
Grateful families, outstanding collaboration and so much sharing of information and experiences. We all are learning and growing. Today I was reminded just how kind, patient, loving and open Ethiopians are.

What a day with so many emotions. Overwhelming need – loving families – powerful partnerships – incredible volunteers. We have a full surgery schedule ahead of us, utilizing all the dedication and skill of all our CSI team and Ethiopian colleagues.

Malane Thelen, CRNA:
The last several days have brought such love and fulfillment. Ethiopia and its people are beautiful. To have worked beside such driven, talented and caring professionals who make such a life-changing difference for children has been an incredible honor. Thank you, Children’s Surgery International for the second opportunity of a lifetime.

Zoe Reker, RN:
Today’s theme: Community. A room with eleven beds and many family members/siblings means not a lot of alone time for anybody. Today, families made the most of this by sharing meals, toys, attention to the little ones, communication and even helping with post operative cares. We all gathered around a map … and learned where everyone was from. The natural cameraderie among strangers is heartwarming.

Jessica Driscoll, OR nurse:
I can’t thank Children’s Surgery International and their donors enough for the opportunities I’ve been given to make such a difference in these children’s lives.

Nshimiyimana Emile, CSI volunteer CRNA from Rwanda:
I had three objectives when I decided to join the CSI team:
1. Give my best to help people in need.
2. Learn from your professionals and gain experience in pediatric anesthesia.
3. Travel to Ethiopia.
I have done all three. The people on this mission were motivated, enthusiastic and hard workers. They are all from different places but the came together and do their jobs for the patients.  

Judy Mutuku, OR nurse volunteer from Kenya:
This was my first trip with CSI. I learned so much from the Ethiopia staff and my volunteer teammates. If you ever think about doing something like this, just go ahead and do it! It’s and interesting and rewarding thing to do and a good way to give back to the community. I wondered how it was going to be with people from different places being on a team. Am I going to meet their expectations? Everyone was supportive and involved in the whole process. I never felt alone.

Linda Sedgwick, Team Clinical Leader:
I’m so grateful to be in Ethiopia with CSI! Our awesome team is providing transformational surgical care for so many precious, beautiful children!

The persistence of one strong and loving mother was incredible to witness. Two long days of travel – pregnant and carrying her infant – she arrived at the close of screening day only to find that the surgery schedule was entirely filled. Despite considerable deliberation, the team couldn’t find space to include little Yohannes. Tears were definitely shed. There would be a space held for him on our spring trip. Despite this recommendation mom returned, pleading to be included. Another family didn’t show up, making a space available for this sweetie and everyone went from sadness to smiles!! Mom said she was lucky – we knew it was less about luck and more about her tenacious love for Yohannes.

Welcome home CSI Ethiopia team!

Explore more photos from CSI’s Ethiopia mission on our Flickr album.

A mother’s love and resolve

By Amy Fischer
CSI volunteer and board member

A mother’s love and resolve is a powerful force. This week, I have had the honor and pleasure of witnessing this in a powerful way. 

In March, Abuzer Said and his mother traveled more than two days by bus to Bahir Dar in hopes of getting surgery for Abuzer’s cleft lip and improving his future. Unfortunately, her infant son was too young to be considered for Children’s Surgery International’s schedule, and she was told to come back for our November screening day. She did, but the arduous travel prevented her from arriving on time to be considered for surgery this week. 

Undeterred, she came to the hospital on Monday, our first day of surgery, hoping for an opening in the schedule. Again, we told her our schedule was full and that she should go home and come back in March 2020. Tuesday when we arrived, she was still at the hospital. Again, she was told to go home. Yesterday, our ENT surgeons said they would be able to add on one more surgery. We went to the lobby to see if by chance Abuzer and his mom were still waiting. They were! You can only imagine the smile on mom’s face when we were told that surgery was possible. 

This is my third trip as a non-medical CSI volunteer, and I have been fortunate to be welcomed into the OR to observe surgeries. I have always wanted to follow a patient from check-in through surgery, and I  knew this was my opportunity, because little Abuzer and his mother captured my heart. The surgery, performed by CSI volunteer surgeon Greg Kelts, was a success, and after Abuzer’s anesthesia recovery, nurses Dody Barr and Jan Gauger gave me the honor of returning Abuzer to his mother’s arms. We both had tears of joy! 


This morning, I went to visit Abuzer in the ward, and through an interpreter spoke to his mom. She said: “I was happy when you said he could have surgery. I never cried during his operation because I had faith in your doctors and I knew they would do a good job.” Abuzer’s father is a farmer and was unable to accompany them to the hospital because it is harvest season. He has been told that his son’s lip has been repaired, and he says thank you to the CSI team; he can’t wait to see his “new” son. 

His mom says, “We were very sad when our son was born with a problem. But now he has been born a second time. We say here that ‘we give birth again’.” When I complimented her on her strength and persistence, she said, “When a child is born with a problem, it makes you stronger. May God bless you all.”

Abuzer Said is a lucky little boy to have such a mother. 

Explore more photos from CSI’s Ethiopia mission on our Flickr album.

Education for lasting change

By Dr. Greg Kelts, ENT-Otolaryngologist


ENT surgery training with Dr. Greg Kelts

We are more than halfway through our surgical mission at Tibebe Ghion Specialty Hospital in Bahir Dar. Over the course of the campaign, our team has helped provide life-changing surgeries for 33 children. This is great in and of itself, however, I am most impressed with the blossoming relationship between our organization and the dedicated staff here at Tibebe Ghion.

From a surgical standpoint, Drs. Melesse and Asnake have continued to improve their robust expertise in cleft lip and palate surgery. Both have been doing cases from start to finish with guidance from our surgical team, and their results have been excellent. In addition, as word of our campaign spread, we have oral surgeons from Tibebe Ghion and an ear, nose and throat surgeon from Gondar joining us in the operating room. As a result, we have been able to train five surgeons in surgical management of cleft lip and palate.

The post-surgical wards at Tibebe Ghion have also been a fertile training ground for this campaign. In previous missions to Bahir Dar, we have provided most, if not all, of the post-operative medical care to our patients. This campaign, we have partnered with the nursing and pediatric staff to help educate and train them on the care of post-operative pediatric patients. Dr. Jesse Hennum and CSI’s pediatric volunteer nurses created a post-operative care training program for the pediatric residents and nurses at Tibebe Ghion and have incorporated these local professionals into our care team. While repairing a cleft lip is a dramatic intervention that changes the life of a child, it is education programs like these that can affect the lives of hundreds of patients after we leave.


While we still have work to do this week, we already are seeing the impact of these CSI missions. I expect the final days will be just as productive and exciting.

Explore more photos from CSI’s Ethiopia mission on our Flickr album.