A father’s perseverance results in life-changing surgery

Sam in the wards after his surgery, with his father Frank, and Interplast volunteer nurse Kay Suter.

In early 2017, our Interplast team working in Madang, PNG, met young Sam and his father, Frank. Interplast volunteer nurse KAY SUTER tells the inspiring story of a father’s commitment to pursuing surgery for his son.

Sam, 5, is from Enga Province in the PNG Highlands. Many families in the highlands have stone pit fires built into the floor of their home for cooking and heating. In April 2015, Sam tripped on a log and fell into his family’s fire pit, sustaining burns to his right hand and arm, and his face.

Sam was taken straight to the local Aid Post for initial treatment before he was sent on to the hospital at Mt Hagen in the Western Highlands Province the next day. Sam spent six weeks there having his burn wounds managed before going back home.

The burns were severe, and without access to surgery or physiotherapy, Sam developed major scar contractures. His right hand became almost unusable – he wasn’t able to hold a pen, and as a result hadn’t been able to start his schooling. His severe elbow contracture meant he could not get his hand to his mouth. The implications for his future – school, play and work – were stark.

Sam’s father, Frank, had heard that an Interplast team was due to be in Mt Hagen late in March 2017. Sam and his father made the long bus ride to get to the Hospital in Mt Hagen, but they arrived on the team’s final operating day. Unfortunately the operating list was fully booked and the team was unable to help.

There was another Interplast team due in Madang on the north-east coast the following week, so the family was offered two options – make the long bus journey to Madang as long as they could get there by Monday, or wait for the next Interplast team to come back to Mt Hagen in early 2018.

 

Sam's right hand before surgery.

Sam and his father decided to make the trip to Madang, a journey that took two full days, including changing buses on the way to avoid a major landslide blocking the main route that threatened to prevent them reaching their goal.

Interplast volunteer surgeon Dr Peter Maloney and Dr John Maihua, PNG’s only qualified plastic surgeon, met with Sam and his father in the assessment clinic at the Modilon Hospital in Madang.

They explained that they could release the burns contractures on both the hand and elbow giving Sam a much improved range of movement. However, they made it clear that they would only proceed with the surgery if the family could commit to staying in Madang for at least six weeks afterwards so that Sam could have access to regular physiotherapy. This would give his wounds the best chance of healing without further scar contracture development.

Fortunately Frank’s employer was happy to give him six weeks leave from his work as a plumber so he could stay with Sam in Madang.

The surgery went ahead and was successful, with Dr Maloney releasing the contractures on Sam’s hand so that he can now hold a pen, dress himself and start his schooling.

After the operation Sam was magnificent. He never complained, always smiled and was so keen to come to therapy twice a day. Sam had not used his right dominant hand to feed himself or play since the accident. In therapy, Interplast volunteer hand therapist Penny McMahon was involved in helping him to relearn how to use his arm and hand for activities such as writing and feeding himself.

Interplast has been supporting the hospital’s physiotherapy staff in a variety of ways, including providing training in how to make splints, pressure garments to control scar tissues, and supporting key staff to travel to regional training opportunities. They had also been given a new sewing machine, which meant they were able to use their new skills to make proper pressure garments and a splint for young Sam, which further helped his recovery and mobility.

Thanks to his father’s perseverance and the Interplast surgical team, Sam now has a bright future ahead of him.

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