I remember my very first interaction with a child I’d soon be closely working with in Ghana as if it were yesterday. An administrator from the hospital introduced me in the following way, “hi kids, this is Marcus John from America and he specializes in mental health and scoliosis.” When she finished, there was complete silence in the room as the kids all looked at each other and then at the administrator in confusion. The administrator then says, “oh, Marcus John and his team are here to help with your surgeries and will make you feel beautiful through his empowerment photo exhibitions, campaigns and art!”
The faces of the kids all lit up with huge smiles and then began to rush towards me in excitement. I was giving hugs, high-fives, handshakes, pounds, you name it- back to back to back. I definitely wished I had more hands and arms in that moment. They were just so fascinated not only because I’d soon be changing their lives, but also by the way I was able to photograph and make them look and feel beautiful, important and popular like a “celebrity”. Everyone instantly started to practice their poses.
Words can’t express the way I truly felt after that experience. I felt like a superhero of some sort. Knowing that I’m making a true and long lasting difference in their lives today and for many years to come truly touches my heart and warms my soul.
In the United States and the developed world, early screening, observation, and treatment most commonly prevent spinal conditions such as scoliosis and kyphosis from progressing to severity. In many parts of Africa, however, both awareness and care are scarce for these conditions and, as a consequence, they progress unchecked until they become extreme and dangerous. High magnitudes of spinal curvature can not only result in significant cosmetic abnormality and impaired posture, but can also compromise the lung, heart, and spinal cord.
Train, Educate, Heal
At Straightforward Scoliosis Foundation (SFF), we look to improve the quality of life of individuals affected by scoliosis, and that involves the entire continuum of care. One aspect of our organization that I felt was missing was mission trips, with the goal being to “train, educate and heal”, which falls in line with our “Back to Healing” campaign.
With a credible group of medical volunteers and psychologists who have a passion for helping communities in need, our mission trips are dedicated to improve healthcare and the mental health of patients in underprivileged communities around the world by providing free surgical and medical care, training for local medical professionals, and best wellness practices used for vital confidence boosting.
How it works
I select the designated locations based on the need of the area, as well as the relationships my organization has with hospitals located in underprivileged areas globally. Sadly enough, there are many reports of patients being detained in hospitals over non-payment of surgical bills- I want to help put an end to that.
Back in 2003, The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was introduced to partially tackle the issue of health-financing, especially for the poor and most vulnerable. While the NHIS has improved access generally to basic healthcare services, specialized surgical care for orthopedic and spine-related disorders remain excluded from the Scheme. The high cost of procedures, treatment and care has excluded more than 85% (mostly children and young adults) of those affected by complex orthopedic conditions from life-changing treatment.
Addressing the entire “continuum” of care
On our mission trips, every day starts with the team coming together to collectively discuss how we plan to address the child’s entire “continuum” of care. We usually spend a few hours a day with the kids who are not quite ready for surgery, and with the kids who have completed surgery, to access their physical and mental states. Once that takes place, our surgeons then proceed to operate on the individuals cleared for surgery.
We are extremely grateful for our partners over at Medtronic for supplying all the medical implants and products that will be used for our first mission trip, as well as giving a monetary donation to cover all traveling costs. Each trip typically spans a little over a week, with most days involving one major surgery addressing a child‘s condition.
Staying connected with technology
Being on these trips, technology is crucial for myself and my team. We constantly need to stay connected to relay critical information to one another. On any given day, some of us may be in the operating room performing complex surgeries, some may be in an area/the living quarters for the patients conducting confidence boosting and self-love activities, some may be in an office handling administrative work and last minute changes and/or additions to our team’s itineraries, etc.
Furthermore, there are many times where we must send information and images to our team and supporters back home in the U.S. for data capturing and content creation purposes. The slightest delays or malfunctions can have major effects on everything, so we greatly depend on trustworthy products and technology, such as reliant computers and tablets in order to successfully complete our work and mission, and to even plan our future trips. In addition, it is vital for us to stay connected to the hospitals even after our mission trips for aftercare communication purposes.
In an age where the latest is the greatest with new and improved products, I strongly believe that technology will always be at the core of the essential and innovative work we do in the scoliosis community. Technology not only helps solve our problems, but it creates opportunities and transforms the way we approach our work, learn, love and operate. In our case, technology truly allows us to heal.