Our Chance International: Ghana 2009

by Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN; photos courtesy of Dr. Jill Stoller / Our Chance International

What draws people to travel for almost 24 hours in order to work 12-hour days without compensation?

“It just grounds me”, said Jill Stoller, MD, a pediatrician from New Jersey and medical director for Our Chance International.

Ghanaian nurse comforts a child prior to surgery.

“To do something that I think will be immensely rewarding,” said Chip Hart, a computer consultant from Vermont, who volunteered for his first mission to Ghana this year.

Our Chance International is a young organization whose roots extend back at least a decade. It began with one family’s desire to do what they could for less privileged children in need of medical care. Sue Vallese, co-executive director, and her family hosted a nine-year-old boy from the Ukraine who needed heart surgery. The organization of more than 20 physicians, surgeons, dentists, and other humanitarians that has grown from this beginning now offers medical care to children in the United States and abroad through clinics, medical missions and sponsorship.

Work in the United States

Dr. Stoller consoles an infant prior to his hernia surgery.

OCI sponsors children’s journeys to the United States so that they may receive much needed medical and surgical care. Children from Kosovo, Iraq, Macedonia and Ghana have traveled to New York, New Jersey and Illinois to receive care. This effort involves not only health care professionals from the United States. It involves American host families and, often, a healthcare professional from the child’s country who accompanies the child and a family member on the long trip.

Our Chance International is now involved in providing eye care to underserved American children. To do this, they collaborate with schools so that the children can have easy access to the care they need.

International Missions

Dr. Stoller with a patient from the Budaburum refugee camp.

Healthcare professionals and a growing core of non-healthcare technicians from all over the United States have traveled to Ghana to bring 21st century surgical and medical services to its underserved people.

In March of 2008, these individuals set up (and then later broke down) the facilities to perform over 150 surgeries in 10 days. They left behind not only smiles and repaired bodies; they left behind knowledge and equipment. They gave to the Ghanaian healthcare system, to a refugee camp and to an orphanage. They did it all without compensation and on their own time.

Dr. Stoller and a group of nurses are the first line. They provide triage and intake assessment.

Speaking before his recent trip to Ghana, Chip said, “I’ve been asked to help — to try to computerize what has been a pencil-and-paper task.” He hopes to provide a “diary” of each child’s story, with photographs, to leave behind in Ghana, but also to give breath and soul to the Our Chance International journey.

The 2009 Mission to Ghana

Dr. Drew Schnitt examines one of his patients prior to surgery to repair a cleft lip and palate.

During their most recent trip, the team performed 200 surgeries, ranging from eye surgery to general adult and pediatric surgery. Some of it was miraculous: restoring sight to a single mother so that she could work; repairing massive hernias so that individuals could walk upright without pain.

But it wasn’t only surgery. Some of what this team provided was much simpler. Encouraging a withdrawn child to smile. Teaching an ambulance crew how to use the recently donated ambulance.

Since his mission to Ghana, Chip has gained a new perspective. While he had not been able to accomplish all that he was hoping to do, he came back with a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the task.

“It was immensely rewarding,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t document everything we did there. But I felt that I did more good in one day than I usually do all week at home.”


OCI staff taking a rare break between surgical cases.

Chip Hart continues to feel strongly committed to volunteerism and to Our Chance International in particular.

He summarized his feelings when he said, “Everyone should do this. It’s beneficial to the person who does it. Make the chance.”

Our Chance International is very aptly named.

About the Author

Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN is a freelance health and medical writer in Branford, Connecticut.

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About Angels in Medicine

Angels in Medicine is a volunteer site dedicated to the humanitarians, heroes, angels, and bodhisattvas of medicine. The site features physicians, nurses, physician assistants and other healthcare workers and volunteers who reach people without the resources or opportunities for quality care, such as teens, the poor, the incarcerated, the elderly, or those living in poor or war-torn regions. Read their stories at www.medangel.org.

Interested in writing for Angels in Medicine? Know about an Angel we should interview? Drop me a note at harry@medangel.org.

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