November 19, 2010

VU physician off to Africa to train pediatric surgeons

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Erik Hansen, M.D., his wife, Amanda, and their children are headed to Kenya, where Hansen will teach physicians the latest pediatric surgical techniques.

VU physician off to Africa to train pediatric surgeons

Raised in South Texas, Erik Hansen, M.D., has known his whole life that his faith would take him far.

On Nov. 30, it will take him 8,000 miles, to East Africa, as he begins a two-year program to teach doctors the art of pediatric surgery.

Hansen, who holds joint faculty appointments in Vanderbilt's departments of Pediatric Surgery and General Surgery, will board a flight with his wife and four children to Kenya and start a new life.

Over the next two years, Hansen, who was recently appointed associate program director for international residency training, will teach medical professionals and students at Kijabe Hospital intricate pediatric procedures, including laparoscopy. These kinds of procedures can often significantly minimize surgical morbidity associated with more traditional, open operations.

Surgical training, and particularly pediatric surgical training, is critically needed in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, half of the sub-Saharan population is under the age of 15, and it is estimated that by the time a child reaches that age, there is an 85 percent chance he will need surgical care, typically in response to trauma, infection or a congenital disease.

“Dr. Hansen will serve a vital purpose in the provision of surgical care to the children of Kenya and East Africa and in the training of future generations of African surgeons to provide that care,” said Wallace Neblett, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatric Surgery.

“This arrangement will open enormous potential opportunities for Vanderbilt students, residents and faculty to collaborate in the mission of improved global health.”

Kijabe Hospital was opened in 1915 as a small, local hospital. Today, as an Africa Inland Mission (AIM) hospital, it serves as a training hospital, meeting the medical needs of the entire region. Yet even with international assistance, the hospital relies most often on donated medical equipment and supplies.

“While an initial challenge will be in learning their different systems, the real lesson will be in learning to do more with less,” said Hansen.

“It's a heartbreaking fact of life that some children in these lower-income areas often die of illnesses or trauma that can easily be treated in the U.S. Hopefully, this training program and others will help change that,” he said.

While a resident at Vanderbilt, Hansen met John Tarpley, M.D., program director of General Surgery.

Tarpley provided surgical care and training in Nigeria for more than 15 years. He introduced Hansen to pediatric anesthesiologist Mark Newton, M.D., associate professor at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Like Tarpley, Newton began a lifelong quest to volunteer his time and skills to the people of Africa.

He and his family have lived and worked for several years at Kijabe Hospital, running the Kenya Registered Nurse Anesthetist program and becoming the first member of the Vanderbilt Anesthesiology department to work as a physician overseas in a long-term capacity.

As a result of his efforts, the department now sends residents to Kenya each year.

The Department of Surgery is hoping to launch a similar training program, Vanderbilt International Surgery (VIS), with Hansen paving the way.

The pediatric surgical training program at Kijabe Hospital is coordinated by the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS).

Hansen's work will be facilitated by the Post Residency Program through World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization that provides immediate humanitarian aid to victims of war, disease and poverty in more than 100 countries.