Skip to Content
by Tom Wilemon | Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 9:02 AM
Uninsured people who needed surgeries for debilitating hand conditions got that help because a team of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) employees volunteered their services.
About 30 of them spent what should have been a Saturday off from work on Aug. 5 to make the first Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Outreach Day a success. The event was part of the Touching Hands Project, an initiative of the American Society for Hand Surgery.
Nine people underwent surgeries, including Demy Lemus, a housekeeper who could no longer grasp a vacuum cleaner or perform other duties because of a trigger finger. Her finger would lock in a painful, bent position. She came out of the operating room grateful and smiling.
Donald Lee, M.D., professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, and Mihir Desai, M.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, performed procedures on patients with carpal tunnel, trigger finger, ganglion cysts and ulnar nerve malfunction.
Another physician, Andres Rodriguez Buitrago, M.D., who practices in Colombia but is in the United States for research work at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), put his dual language skills to use by serving as an interpreter.
Patient referrals came from The Shade Tree Clinic, a free health clinic staffed by VUSM.
The event required months of planning.
“It was amazing that we got so many different volunteers,” said Diane Hickerson, R.N., who assisted Lee in organizing the event. “We got almost 100 percent of our staff here today.”
This Touching Hands Project also made it possible for the employees to do mission work without traveling abroad.
“It has been a marvelous opportunity for us as a staff to come together as a community and as a family here together at Vanderbilt,” said Danny Ball, the operating room manager of the clinic where the surgeries were performed. “There are needs right here in our community. This is an opportunity for us to give back.”
The volunteers included employees from other VUMC departments, said Donna Gardner, R.N., the patient care manager for the holding area and recovery rooms.
“We’ve got four nurses here today,” she said. “One of them is a volunteer who came from Medical Center East to make sure we had enough staff to take care of our patients. Like Danny said, it’s like doing medical missions here at home. Not everybody can get out and travel abroad to do a medical mission.”
For Norma Guinn, a registration specialist, the event was an opportunity to give back.
“I had breast cancer when I was 29,” Guinn said. “It was amazing how people I didn’t know stepped up to help me. I’m just paying it forward. If I can step up and help someone, I’m going to do it.”
Patients received a greeting from valet attendant Willie Jarrett when they arrived at the Vanderbilt Outpatient Surgery Center.
“We get so busy with our daily lives we fail to take the time for those who need help,” Jarrett said. “It’s been a blessing for me to be able to do this. I’m the first one they meet when they get here. It’s just good to greet them and let them know everything is going to be all right.”
Quintin Newsom, care partner, wheeled patients back to waiting vehicles after their surgeries.
“When people need help, I hope I can help them,” Newsom said. “I hope I can be that caring ear or a just a shoulder for a person to lean on.”
The Shade Tree Clinic did the evaluations and prescreened patients for the event. That team included Robert Miller, M.D., professor of Clinical Medicine and medical director of the clinic; James Fiechtl, M.D., assistant professor of Othopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation; Sandra Gebhart, M.D., orthopaedic resident; and second-year medical student Kaitlyn Reasoner.
Tom Wilemon, (615) 322-4747
There are lots of ways to keep up with Vanderbilt. Choose your preferred method: