Dr. Adam Bakker | TCOF Board Member

In 2022, I returned from my fifth year working in Tanzania. My time in Tanzania focuses on severely neglected pediatric burn scar contractures and upper extremity limb deformities. Throughout Tanzania, burns are commonplace due to the need for fires to boil and sanitize water, heat homes and keeping mosquitoes away by the use of smoke. Often, fires are in the middle of single room homes where kids will accidentally fall and get severely burned, developing consequential limb contractures. In 2022 I was able to bring two additional providers from TCO along with me. John Muelken, an orthopedic PA, made his third trip, and Allison Mikota, OTR/L, CHT a Hand Therapist, visited for the first time.

Colleagues, friends, and patients often inquire: Why Tanzania?

My connection to Tanzania started at the end of my undergraduate years at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. I needed a biological field course to graduate with my Biology degree and that course took place in Tanzania in May of 2002. In addition to learning about ecology and the animals of Tanzania, the majority of the 12 students who went to Tanzania had a high interest in medicine. We stopped in Arusha, Tanzania and visited Selian Lutheran Hospital, which was run by Mark Jacobson, MD, who is from Stillwater, MN. He described some of the injuries treated at Selian, including severe burns, and the tremendous need for medical care.

As a student who had plans for medical school, the idea of giving back was at the forefront of my mind, especially in areas where the need and resources are limited. Beginning my life as an orphan, I am drawn to supporting the underserved. During my time at Selian in 2002, I took a few photographs. One of the images that stayed with me over the years was a rack of washed exam gloves, the same single-use exam gloves we use in the U.S. Instead of throwing them away after one use, the gloves were used, washed, dried and reused again. Nothing was thrown away. The fact that resources are limited is imbued by that photograph. The need for additional support was front and center.

Fast forward almost 20 years to a fall TCO Foundation board meeting and we just merged with St. Croix Orthopaedics and their Foundation. Dr. David Palmer, from St. Croix Orthopaedics, just became integrated to the TCO Foundation. He began describing some of the work he had done in Tanzania, and immediately my attention was captured. He then started to describe this hospital and of all places it was in Arusha! After inquiring, he dropped the name of the hospital, Selian Lutheran Hospital. I was shocked, the same place I visited years ago with the “disposable” gloves drying to be reused. Conversations at home and phone calls away led me and a team, including Melissa Mendez, PA-C and Kaitlyn Jensen, a TCO Surgical Tech now a nurse at TCO, to Tanzania in 2018. We joined a team of surgeons out of Denver who has been going to Selian for over 25 years.

All the work and continuity of care is possible through the Friends of the Plaster House, an NGO (non-governmental organization). The Plaster House is an amazing organization in Arusha, Tanzania that houses and takes care of up to 90 children at any given time. They help identify kids throughout the country who have significant acquired or congenital deformities. Under the guidance of the Plaster House, these children are brought in (along with their mother if they are still quite young) a week or two ahead of their corrective surgeries to get evaluated and nutritionally ready for surgery.

They will stay while the Plaster House organizes the surgeries, and then keeps them 6 weeks after surgery so they can receive their wound care and monitor complete healing before returning to their huts/homes or other lived in dwellings. In addition, the Plaster House will often organize Tanzanian surgical residents to work with us, in order to teach the future Tanzanian surgeons how to perform these types of surgeries.

The average costs for the entire surgery and care is $850 per child. This includes the before mentioned 1-2 week pre surgery, nutrition/evaluation, the surgery itself, and the 6 weeks of recovery at the Plaster House. Almost the entire cost of the surgery and care is covered through generous life changing donations. On average we perform 30-45 pediatric burn scar contracture releases and upper extremity limb corrective surgeries during our week at the Plaster House. The TCO Foundation has been an active donor to the Friends of the Plaster House, covering the costs for numerous life altering surgeries for children.

If interested in donating any amount to the pediatric burn scar release and upper extremity limb corrective surgeries, please see the links below. All proceeds will go directly for the children.

Tanzania Plaster House

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