Not only are these doctors saving lives here in St. Louis, but they are investing time, money and effort into helping people around the world.
Dr. Lewis Wall
Dr. Lewis Wall began his career as an anthropologist, but it was his field experience in Africa that spurred him toward medicine and making a difference. “It was an extended, firsthand encounter with poverty and general deprivation,” says Wall, a professor of anthropology, as well as obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine, and a physician at Barnes- Jewish Hospital. “Some of the issues of anthropology are theoretical and academic, and they’re far different than actually meeting real, tangible human needs.”
With that idea in mind, Wall has focused on the area of childbirth trauma and obstructed labor prevalent in areas of West Africa, founding the Worldwide Fistula Fund in 1995. Fistula injuries occur during labor if a baby will not fit through the birth canal and no medical intervention takes place. “This was a fairly significant problem in the U.S. and Europe 150 years ago, but it’s vanished,” Wall explains. “The main issue is lack of access to medical care.”
Through Wall’s efforts and donations that ranged from $35 from a potluck to large contributions from the Trio Foundation of St. Louis, Merrill Lynch and musician Dave Matthews, the Danja Fistula Center opened in Niger, Africa, on Feb. 11. The 42-bed hospital run by both local and expatriate nurses and doctors will provide the much-needed care for women who have little control over their situations, Wall says. “It’s transformative to be able to do surgery for a woman who is an innocent victim of reproduction gone awry. The hospital shows that people do care about women in this culture and they do have value.”
Wall will travel to Uganda next, his fourth trip to Africa in a year, to continue his work helping women throughout the continent. “If you look at the numbers, maternal health in Africa is just terribly depressing, but you can make a difference, one person at a time. There need to be 100 centers like this, so we’re 1 percent of the way there—but it’s a start.”
Dr. Daniel Nieva
When Dr. Daniel Nieva and the team from St. Louis Children’s Hospital and other local facilities return to Haiti for the seventh time this fall, they will continue their life-saving work in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. “We’re filling the void that otherwise would remain unfilled,” says Nieva, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s and an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine.
The particular medical void that Nieva’s team is focused on is treatment of hydrocephalous, a condition that causes an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain. Also known as ‘water on the brain,’ hydrocephalous affects Haitian infants at a greater rate due to lack of access to prenatal care. Without the necessary neurosurgery, it leads to cranial deformation, neurological devastation and/or death. “You would never see it progress to that state in America,” Nieva says.
Dr. David Limbrick organized the first trip to Haiti in 2009, following the lead of Miami-based Project Medishare. Nieva jumped at the chance to help, especially when the attention after the 2010 earthquake waned. “There is still so much need, and that’s why we continue to go.”
The medical teams spend five days in the South American country, operating on children. While the costs of the trips are paid out-of-pocket, it is worth it seeing the difference their efforts have made, Nieva says. “We’re going there with more regularity and can intervene at an earlier age, so the children have a better prognosis as a result.”
Nieva hopes a July 28 fundraiser at Creve Coeur Racquet Club will help to keep the program growing and allow the group to sustain its presence in Haiti. “It’s very satisfying to be able to organize a team of experts who can share their time and resources to help these children. It’s a life-saving surgery and it’s quite profound the impact we can make.”
Dr. Perry Schoenecker
From Belize to Egypt to Brazil, Dr. Perry Schoenecker has made a world of difference for children in need of orthopedic care. As chief of staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children-St. Louis, the distinguished pediatric orthopedic surgeon is an advocate for those cases. “There’s been a long-standing commitment to help kids from other countries, particularly where there isn’t developed, definitive orthopedic care for often serious musculoskeletal deformities,” he says.
More than 30 years ago, Schoenecker joined his colleague, Dr. Jack Sheridan, in his work with the Belize Children’s Program. Children with major orthopedic issues would come to Shriners for state-of-the-art surgery at no charge. “The kids down there would think that going to St. Louis was like going to heaven because they would come back materially improved—crooked legs would be straightened, deformed hands would be functional, dislocated hips would be fixed for life,” Schoenecker explains.
The Belize Children’s Program now works in conjunction with the World Pediatric Project, which brings children from Central and South America to St. Louis for medical care. “Often these cases are extreme pathology that you only see in a third world country,” he says. “It’s very rewarding to learn as you provide this care, as well as see the success of the patients.”
Schoenecker has successfully fought for Shriners to continue providing care to foreign patients when the hospital recently faced budget cuts. He also travels, sharing his knowledge with young pediatric orthopedic surgeons so they can make a difference in their own countries. “We just want to optimize our ability to provide care for these children who otherwise may not receive it.”