Dr. Koepplinger cares for a patient in Cambodia.
Dr. Koepplinger cares for a patient in Cambodia.

Dr. Matt Koepplinger, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, spent two weeks in Takeo, Cambodia over the summer on a medical mission trip called the Touching Hands Project.

ReSurge International sponsored the trip, with staff members and team originating in San Francisco. ReSurge is a non-profit organization that partners with the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, sending surgical teams to underserved areas abroad with equipment and personnel. The organization also trains local surgeons in sub-specialized medical care.

The team included: two surgeons, Drs. Tom Davenport and Matt Koepplinger; two anesthesiologists, Drs. Dorothy Gaal and Myles Standish; a pediatrician, Evan Bloom; two nurses, Fran Fisher and Susan Fossum; one therapist, Rebecca Neiduski; and two ReSurge trip support personnel, Allison Reidy and Anila Chaudhary.

After 27 hours of travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the team sailed through customs with 29 bags in less than 5 minutes, needing more time to secure the supplies on the back of a pickup truck for the 1.5 hour journey to Takeo.

Once they arrived in Takeo, the team set up the clinic to see as many patients as possible. A local liaison assisted the team logistically, spreading the word that this team of specialists would be arriving. The patients soliciting care had a variety of complex problems including: severe upper extremity burns, syndactyly, ischemic contractures, neurofibromatosis, congenital ptosis, neglected tendon deformities, and cerebral palsy.

The medical team evaluated 50 patients in clinic, and performed about 80 to 90 procedures on 40 patients.  The most common surgery performed was for debilitating burn contractures that limited functioning.  These cases were scheduled the first week as to enable careful post-operative follow-up and to allow for initial dressing changes, a consultation with a hand therapist for fabrication of orthoses and family education for therapeutic exercises and stretches.

The team had to make the most of limited facility capabilities. The hospital is a 250-bed facility that serves a variety of patients from the surrounding area and beyond.  Many patients travel several hours to get care in Takeo.  Despite the facility’s inherent limitations, they take excellent care of their patients, and everyone there is dedicated to providing superior care. At times, the ReSurge team didn’t have overhead surgical lights or running water to scrub for cases. But that didn’t stop the team from providing the very best in care to the people of Cambodia.  Patients and families alike were very grateful for the hard work and dedication of the ReSurge team.

This was Koepplinger’s second medical mission trip and it was such a good experience he said it will not be his last trip. He added that it was a great learning experience working alongside Dr. Tom Davenport, a plastic surgeon who specializes in complex wounds.

Koepplinger said it was a blessing to be able to go on the trip and take time away from work to make an impact elsewhere. He said he is very grateful to Dr. Walter Lowe and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery team for enabling him to attend this medical mission trip, and extend the impact of the department beyond the confines of the City of Houston.