Reflections from Dr. Dave Vandersteen – Liberia 2019

Full disclosure: Today’s blog is written by a urologic surgeon. Feel free to gloss over as much as necessary to remain in your comfort zone.

As the sun still struggled to meet the horizon, a team of motivated CSI members arose around 5 a.m., strapped on headlights and left the Firestone Guesthouse where we reside. Why? To run in the 80 degree, 100% humidity environment and to enjoy one another’s company. (Writer of this blog was soundly sleeping, BTW.) These CSI team members reflect the spirit of our mission: teamwork, sacrifice and hard work. They support and encourage one another along the way as they climb the Liberian hills in the dark. They are rewarded by a magnificent sunrise and the ensuing endorphin rush.

It is a blessing to return to Liberia for the seventh time. As “frequent flyers” we have built strong bonds with our local colleagues. Within minutes of arrival at the hospital and the Firestone facility, we were able to reconnect and plan our work to help the children of Liberia as if we had never left.

The support we receive from Firestone and the local community is invaluable. The Liberian and Firestone communities provide us with the food, shelter, transportation and facilities to do this work. They prescreen patients, house patients awaiting surgery and provide dressings and other supplies necessary for us to be successful. Thank you, Firestone!

Reconstructive pediatric urologic surgeons perform staged surgeries that are completed over a number of years. So each year we return, we see the results of our prior trips and diligently work to restore these children to their full potential. Today, we had a return visitor whom we first met in 2012 following a traumatic injury to his bladder. At that time he was not able to urinate at all and had  been living with a constant indwelling tube extending from his abdomen that drained his bladder. We performed a Mitrofanoff procedure (presumably the first ever in Liberia), allowing him to live a normal tube-free life. He returned today, as a healthy, productive 27-year-old man!

We started the day with rounds to evaluate yesterday’s surgical patients, and all were doing well. Dr. Janelle Fox performed a urethral reconstruction in a young man who could not urinate because of a traumatic injury. Dr. Dave Andrews continued to save the world “one hernia at a time,” and Dr. Eric Moore was able to remove a disfiguring tumor from the head of a beautiful young girl.

The day was capped off by the families of our patients singing and dancing in gratitude. It was impossible to leave with a dry eye. It is impossible not to love this place and these wonderful people. xxxoooo, Liberia! 

~ Dave Vandersteen, MD

View more photos in our Liberia Flickr album.