Like all physicians, I went into medicine to make a difference in the lives of people in need. Certainly, many people in the Carolinas are in need. I have enjoyed my 30 years in practice providing knee and hip replacements for such patients locally. I have come to realize that life and medical care in the U.S. is vastly different than in developing countries. I went on my first medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic over 15 years ago, where the disparity in care and access was striking compared to that in the United States. Therefore, I made the decision to make a difference in some of those developing countries in addition to my work locally. Nicaragua and Haiti are two of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, both having being ravaged by earthquakes years ago. Through Orthopaedic Oversees (an organization that promotes orthopedic Medical Mission Work in developing countries) I went to the indigent hospital in Managua, Nicaragua to perform hip and knee replacements and teach the residents and faculty there. This was extremely rewarding for me but I left a week later recognizing that I needed to do more. One of the big needs in these facilities is equipment. Yves Boudreau, MD who has also spent time there collects supplies from local hospitals and together we shipped them to Managua, Nicaragua.
A year later I returned to perform more surgeries, this time I brought my son Keith Fehring, MD ( who at the time was a medical student and is now a physician at the OrthoCarolina Hip & Knee Center) to help. After my third trip to Managua, I realized that I needed to do more than just doing a weeks’ worth of surgeries (as the adage goes, I not only needed to give them fish but more importantly to teach them to fish).
Therefore, through the OrthoCarolina Charitable Foundation of which I am Co- Director we established three initiatives sponsored by donations from the physicians of OrthoCarolina.
We developed an International Visiting Fellowship program at OrthoCarolina. Surgeons from developing countries came to OC for a month and are trained in different orthopedic subspecialties by our physicians. While our first few International Fellows were from Nicaragua, we have now trained over 30 surgeons from other developing countries, such as Tanzania, Cameroon, Peru, Nigeria, and Kenya to name a few.
We started a rotating teaching Fellowship with two OrthoCarolina MDs. A quarter of them go to Nicaragua to teach the residents and faculty as well perform surgeries for a week at the indigent hospital in Managua. Every quarter a different subspecialty returns. The first group to go there were Drs. Carroll Jones and Scott Shawen. Next quarter a group of hand surgeons will go.
We have also obtained equipment to treat long bone fractures for indigent patients in Nicaragua. We have purchased implants through the SIGN Program which supplies implants to treat people who have broken long bones. Without these instruments, people would be confined to traction and not be able to make a living for themselves and family. This is a very important project in these developing countries.
Operation Walk Carolinas, which travels to Cuba in May 2017 to perform joint replacements on Cuban people who need them the most, is another way for OrthoCarolina to spread orthopedic knowledge throughout the globe. I look forward to this next opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Dr. Thomas Fehring MD is a hip and knee surgeon with OrthoCarolina Hip & Knee Center.