Compassionate Care

Going the Distance

Shriners Hospitals’ global efforts, in collaboration with the World Pediatric Project, change lives across the miles

Narshare watches her 18-year-old son Kareem grind through physical therapy 12 days after major surgery at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis. The pair, who are from St. Lucia, are adapting to life in the United States while Kareem undergoes treatment for Blount’s disease, a problem with the growth plates around the knees that causes severe bowing of the lower legs.

Kareem’s journey began with St. Louis Shriners Hospitals physician J. Eric Gordon, M.D., in the Caribbean. Dr. Gordon has been using his time off to travel there to help children like Kareem in conjunction with the World Pediatric Project (WPP).

The WPP, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization, brings pediatric specialty care to places where access to such care doesn’t exist. WPP mobilizes dozens of pediatric diagnostic and surgical specialist teams and sends them to 12 partner countries in the Caribbean and Central America. When complex surgery requires advanced technology, equipment and post-operative care, the program works with some of the most advanced pediatric hospitals in the United States, including the St. Louis Shriners Hospital.

“When most people think of the Caribbean, they think of cruise ships and white sand beaches, but the reality for the locals can be very different,” Dr. Gordon said. “There just isn’t the medical specialization to treat some of the common conditions you see there.”

Dr. Gordon and fellow Shriners Hospitals — St. Louis physicians Mark Miller, M.D., and Brian Kelly, M.D., are part of the effort to change that. The typical trip has them fly in on Saturday, see up to 150 patients each, perform between 20 and 40 surgeries, and return home the following Saturday. All the while, they teach local doctors how to diagnose and address the issues they are treating. Some cases are so severe that the WPP arranges for the child to come to the United States for continued care. Such was the situation for Kareem.

Kareem had his first surgery in the United States in September, and more will follow. With both his legs in frames (a form of bracing), he is proving to be a “warrior.” “When a person watches him, they might say he won’t be able to achieve,” said his mom. “I have no doubt, though: He will achieve.”

The medical staff at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital is doing its part to ensure that. And Dr. Gordon’s commitment to the children in the Caribbean remains strong. “Kids are kids,” he said, “whether they’re from Missouri or Zimbabwe. It’s an area where there are needs that aren’t being met.”