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Good Sam Neurosurgeon Travels to Dominican Republic on Mission Trip

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Good Sam Neurosurgeon Travels to Dominican Republic on Mission Trip


A recent service trip to the Dominican Republic had a profound impact on Salvatore Zavarella, DO, FACOS, a neurosurgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center who joined forces with non-profit organization, The Butterfly Foundation, teaching and performing spinal deformity surgery in this under served country. This collaboration included a multi-disciplinary team of established US medical professionals at the helm. They worked side-by-side with local residents, attending spine surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, training and preparing them to perform life-changing spine surgeries on patients of all ages.

While most American’s familiarity with scoliosis stems from regular screenings at school or a pediatrician’s office, for residents of underdeveloped countries like the Dominican Republic, there is little help for those who suffer from severe spine curvatures; no corrective bracing, no physical therapy and no surgical option. In truth, scoliosis and other spinal deformities can significantly impede an individual’s quality of life, and in some cases, limit their life expectancy.

For seven days, Dr. Zavarella performed more than 20 surgeries at Salvador Gautier Hospital, in the nation’s capital of Santo Domingo. He was accompanied by a team of volunteer anesthesiologists, nurses, orthopedic surgeons and representatives from Stryker and Medtronic, leaders in the worldwide orthopedic medical technology market, who generously donated implant materials. The children and adults were pre-screened and suffered from severe curves.

“Without corrective scoliosis surgery, these people, who were very poor and without access to proper medical care, would have suffered from compromised lung capacity, neurologic disorders, and forced to live in extreme pain,” said Dr. Zavarella.

Another challenge the medical team faced was the facility at the Santo Domingo hospital. Power loss was a daily occurrence, medical supplies were limited and with no running water, surgeons scrubbed in at a large garbage can. Maintaining proper anesthesia was the most challenging, but Dr. Zavarella credits the skilled US anesthesiologists, who he described as, “integral to the success of each surgery.” All of the surgeries, provided at no cost to the patients, were successful with most of the scoliosis patients discharged after four days, with very limited post-operative pain medicine, a significant contrast to treatment protocol in the United States.

“This experience sheds light on the enormous impact you can make when looking outside of what is familiar, truly changing the trajectory of someone’s life,” said Dr. Zavarella. “The appreciation shown by the patients and their families was like nothing I have ever experienced.”

One of the most gratifying moments of this trip for Dr. Zavarella was seeing 12-year old twin sisters, both with the same 90-degree curve, being discharged from the hospital, just four days after their surgeries. Armed with straight spines and shoulders aligned correctly, they were ready to take on a healthier and brighter future. Dr. Zavarella encourages colleagues to explore similar opportunities and there are many to bring their skill and experience to underserved areas around the world.

Good Samaritan donated essential surgical materials, such as gloves, gowns, surgical pens, without which, sanitary conditions would have been severly compromised according to Dr. Zavarella. 

To learn more about the corrective spinal procedures performed at Good Sam, please call 631-376-4444 or visit www.good-samaritan-hospital.org.

This article originally appeared in the April LINPS Newsletter, Spine Health.