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Resident Forum
April 15, 1998

Healing Hands for Hurting People

Author Affiliations

Prepared by Gloria Robertson, Department of Resident Physician Services, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1998;279(15):1232G. doi:10.1001/jama.279.15.1232

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being. . . .—Constitution, World Health Organization

For many people, the Third World evokes images of poverty, malnourishment, overpopulation, unemployment, and inadequate hygiene and health care. Helping the people of developing countries seems a daunting task. S. Vincent Grasso, DO, a postdoctoral fellow in advanced minimally invasive surgery (MIS) and telemedicine at Yale University Department of Surgery, has devoted much of his time reaching out to patients and physicians in transitional countries to help improve their access to health care. As founder of AYUDAMOS Inc, a nonprofit organization composed of physicians, engineers, scientists, and other professionals, Dr Grasso has shown his commitment to providing humanitarian and medical services to underserved people in the United States and abroad.

In March 1996, Dr Grasso helped organize a medical-surgical trip to Cambodia (JAMA. October 9, 1996). The goal of that trip was to provide humanitarian and medical-surgical aid to survivors of land mine explosions and other persons in need of medical care. In April 1997, Dr Grasso organized a similar mission to Bolivia. The goal was to deliver medical supplies and equipment donated by the Catholic Medical Mission Board and to provide basic training in MIS. When he wasn't teaching at San Juan De Dios Hospital, Dr Grasso participated in the daily activities of several local clinics and relief organizations.

During this 7-day mission, a physician who accompanied Dr Grasso, Dr Richard Banchs, staff anesthesiologist at Cabrini Medical Center, conducted lectures in trauma and airway management, critical care, and obstetric/gynecologic complications. He also lectured on the theory of laparoscopic surgery, followed by practical applications in an inanimate lab with an emphasis on camera movement and optical alignment.

In January 1998, Dr Grasso returned to Bolivia for 9 days to review procedures taught on his first trip and to provide advanced MIS training. As a result of the training, Bolivian physicians have independently performed 8 diagnostic laparoscopies during the 8-month interval. On this trip, Dr Grasso built on his earlier teachings. He spent several days lecturing on and demonstrating diagnostic laparoscopies and laparoscopic cholecystectomies. It was the first time that a diagnostic laparoscopy using local anesthesia was performed in Bolivia. Dr Grasso also spent 2 days teaching local physicians about the benefits of telemedicine and technology. He conducted these lectures in Spanish and followed them with a broadcast demonstration.

After observing syringes, blood-stained gauze, and other medical waste lying in the streets and in open containers, Dr Grasso established a waste management grassroots task force. The task force was instructed in basic definitions, waste identification, sorting and handling, recycling guidelines, and disposal techniques. He also established the city's first English medical text library composed of approximately 125 books and an Internet room for medical staff. Finally, Dr Grasso developed a 10-minute videotape chronicling the highlights of his trips to Bolivia, which will be used by Yale University Department of Surgery as an educational tool. It will also serve as a promotional tool for future sponsors.

The trip was sponsored by Cabrini Medical Center, the Catholic Medical Missions Board, AYUDAMOS Inc, Yale University, the Center for International Education and Development, Georgetown University, the RGS Group, the Federation for Emerging Diseases, and various other organizations. Dr Grasso was also awarded a Policy Promotion Grant from the American Medical Association Resident Physicians Section.

Dr Grasso will be in Nepal in April and May 1998 as Director of Extreme Telemedicine and Medical Research at Mt Everest with the Everest Extreme Expedition. His project base expands to Uganda in July. Physicians interested in learning about Dr Grasso's upcoming projects may contact him at Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Endolaparoscopic Surgery, Temple Medical Bldg, 40 Temple St, Suite 3A, New Haven, CT 06510 (e-mail: santin@ix.netcom.com). For information about the AMA-RPS Policy Promotion Grant, contact the AMA-RPS at (312) 464-5529.