By Andrew Cohen
Perhaps even more productive in semi-retirement than in his working years, alumnus Arthur Fine ’67 co-leads surgical missions to help alleviate medical suffering around the developing world.
For nearly the last 15 years, he and his surgeon wife Margie have coordinated and co-led these non-sectarian missions. A board member of Aloha Medical Mission, which sponsors the missions, Fine became knowledgeable about prosthetic hands, director of a prosthetic hand foundation, and an expert in fitting them and training amputees on how to use them.
“After participating in only a few surgical missions in which I fitted prosthetic hands, my wife and I realized we had the medical, administrative, and legal skills to lead them,” he says. “The missions had exclusively been in the Philippines, Nepal, and Myanmar, and we decided to expand the geographical scope to include Central America, South America, and more of Asia.”
Earlier this year, Fine co-led a mission to Guastatoya, Guatemala with a team of general surgeons, gynecologists, anesthetists, operating room nurses, and medical technicians. The hurdles were abundant.
Just a sampling of what Fine needed to do: Obtain temporary licenses for the medical personnel. Gain customs clearances without duties or fees for roughly 25 bags of instruments, supplies, and medications. Secure operating rooms at the local hospital with five operating tables and anesthesia, suction, and cautery machines. Assist the recruitment of 35 U.S. volunteers. Purchase surgical narcotics, IV fluids, and anesthesia gasses.
Not to mention the blizzard of logistical details and negotiations he handled relating to transportation, meals, lodging, COVID-19, and security.
Aloha Medical Mission paid a local doctor to pre-screen potential surgical patients, and Fine navigated a nightmarish airline experience that featured delayed flights, canceled flights, and what he calls “bait-and switch tactics” regarding whether 25 bags of medical supplies and devices would fly for free, the baggage fees being waived.
“I ultimately resolved the waiver issue at LAX by speaking first to an upstairs supervisor, then a downstairs supervisor, and then a manager, all of whom made several phone calls to unknown individuals. It took me some four hours to do so,” Fine says.
Pivoting with poise
Three volunteers had to cancel at the 11th hour, two of them anesthetists. The hospital had the promised operating rooms — but only two anesthesia machines and one working suction machine.
“We were able to do many surgeries with a spinal injection not requiring the anesthesia machines,” Fine says. “As to the suction machines, we were able to borrow one from another hospital, and we had to buy a new suction machine, which at the end of the mission we donated to the hospital.”
Over five days, the group did 108 major surgeries on 100 patients, and provided 75 prosthetic hands. The hospital director provided supplies and an anesthetist at no charge, allocated break space and a storage area, gave the team’s protocols priority, and supplied some medical supplies and an anesthetist at no charge.
“The director wanted to know when we could come back,” Fine says.
Meanwhile, Guastatoya’s mayor paid for lunches and dinners, hosted a going-away party, and gave team members a key to the city. He offered to fly the team back should it be willing to return.
With all the pre-trip hassles and logistical challenges, staying in spartan rooms with no closet, shelves, or hooks, and living out of their suitcases, the Aloha Medical Mission team relished the experience and the final result.
“The patients could not have been more thankful. It’s one thing to give your money to charitable causes. It’s another thing to give of yourself. Our volunteers did both,” says Fine, noting how they paid for their transportation, board, and lodging and used their vacation time to participate. “For the most part, they hadn’t worked with each other. But they came together as an effective team to render critically-needed surgical services for those who never would have received them if not for our mission.
“I can think of nothing I’ve done in my life that gave me more satisfaction than to know I participated in this team effort that did so much for so many people.”