Event continues VUMC tradition of providing free hand surgeriesAug. 24, 2020, 12:49 PM
by Jill Clendening
For eight years, Clearissa Griggs of Lebanon has barely been able to use her right hand because of a painful growth that immobilized her thumb, but she plans to take her three dogs for walks and work in her flower garden again now that the unwelcome mass has been removed.
For the fourth straight year, Vanderbilt University Medical Center surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and support staff provided free surgeries for underinsured individuals with chronic upper extremity conditions such as carpel tunnel syndrome and cysts. Potential patients were referred from five Nashville-area clinics to be evaluated for surgery at the Shade Tree Clinic, Vanderbilt’s medical student-run, free health clinic.
Griggs, who doesn’t have health insurance, found out about VUMC’s “Touching Hands” Outreach Day through her physician at Charis Health Center, a medical clinic serving underinsured individuals in Middle Tennessee. Griggs had considered paying the out-of-pocket cost to have the painful mass removed, but she learned that the imaging needed to evaluate the growth and the surgery would’ve cost $30,000 or more. That was money she just didn’t have.
“I’m right-handed, so my husband has just had to do a lot of things for me,” Griggs laughed. “I have a really pretty flower garden, and I want to be able to dig in it and take care of it. I haven’t been able to. And it’s been hard to take care of my dogs. I’m just super excited and so very appreciative of everyone here.”
Donald Lee, MD, professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation and Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship director, organizes “Touching Hands,” an initiative of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, as a way for surgeons and other medical providers to give back to those in need in the local community. This year, surgeries were performed for 10 people at the Vanderbilt Orthopaedics Franklin in Williamson County.
“What we are able to address during Outreach Day are the more chronic conditions, and if you’re uninsured, it’s difficult to find somebody to help you with these types of problems,” Lee said. “You really can’t go to the emergency room for carpal tunnel.
“We were worried that this might not happen this year due to the pandemic, but the leadership of the Medical Center didn’t blink. They’ve been very generous in allowing the use of the surgery center on the weekend and covering the costs of all materials for the procedures.”
And the patients aren’t the only ones excited about event, Lee said, as VUMC clinicians and support staff volunteer to help out each year.
“One of the main reasons we get into the medical profession is to help people,” he said. “This is just another way of doing that. Every year, more and more volunteers hear about this day and get excited about participating. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate all the volunteers who want to work, which I think says a lot about the Medical Center community.”
The surgeries were performed by Lee; Douglas Weikert, MD; Mihir Desai, MD; Jed Maslow, MD; Jaron Sullivan, MD; and Eric Bowman, MD, with assistance from hand and upper extremity fellow Jonathan Yu, MD, and Orthopaedic residents Callie Jewett, MD; Emilie Amaro, MD; Eric Dilbone, MD; Hayden Joseph, MD; Aleksander Mika, MD; Jonathan Savakus, MD; and Robert Elrod, MD. Anesthesia services were provided by attending anesthesiologist Christopher Canlas, MD; and certified registered nurse anesthetists Gwen Sanders, Shuhanna O’Bryan, Kathy Vehring and Donna Keeney. Vanderbilt Bone and Joint Surgery Center staff were coordinated by Belinda Coakley, RN, and Randi Blakely, RN.
The scheduling of patients, as well as organizing donations to support the day’s activities, was overseen by first-year Internal Medicine resident Kaitlyn Reasoner, MD, who has been very involved with the project since her days as a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student.