Medical missions to help wounded soldiers rewarding work for local surgeon and physiotherapist

Posted on 05/25/2016

ASHT member Pam Ball recently participated in a mission trip, helping wounded soldiers in Ukraine. 

Medical missions to help wounded soldiers rewarding work for local surgeon and physiotherapist
By Carmela Fragomeni, Hamilton Spectator
Posted: May 23, 2016
Photo from Hamilton Spectator

Volunteering on medical missions to Ukraine reminded Dr. Carolyn Levis of why she became a surgeon in the first place.

"When people decide to go into medicine, they want to really help people," says the service chief for plastic surgery at St. Joseph's Healthcare.

Levis, also a McMaster associate professor, aids people daily in her Hamilton practice and says: "I love it."

But on missions, it's helping on another level.

"These patients wouldn't have access to care unless people volunteer," says Levis, who specializes in reconstructive surgery and has volunteered to treat wounded soldiers in Ukraine three times now.

"You see the impact you have on a lot of people, and how much is accomplished — it's very gratifying."

Among those impacted was on a soldier who lost parts of his right hand and movement in his arm.

"His primary goal … was to be able to use two arms to hold his child who was about to be born," Levis recalls.

"The Ukrainian surgeons did not have the expertise to perform surgery — and the necessary therapy and rehabilitation is not available in Ukraine."

Levis volunteered in three of four missions since November 2014. She was there in May and October of 2015, and this past February. (The first missions were funded by the Canadian Ukraine Foundation; the last two by the Canadian federal government, she says).

Levis, for her work, was one of three mission members presented in February with Ukraine's prestigious Order of Merit by the country's president.

Levis, in accepting it "on behalf of the wider Canadian community," said she draws strength and is inspired by the patients she has treated.

Invited to join her first Ukraine mission while working in a Guatemalan mission, Levis was back in Canada only a week before heading off to Kyiv — because the mission desperately needed a surgeon who could operate on hands and perform microsurgery.

Each mission had 20 to 22 volunteer surgeons and nurses and lasted seven to 10 days. They screened 80 to 100 patients and performed 55 to 65 surgeries.

Pam Ball of Burlington was the only physiotherapist — joining after Levis realized "we could do a lot more if we had a hand therapist" and invited her along. "Pam was usually the hardest working person on the mission. She provided scar care, post operative care, made braces — the list just went on and on."

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