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news News Friday, May 31, 2019 Friday, May 31, 2019 1:23 PM - Friday, May 31, 2019 1:23 PM

Outreach clinic in Puerto Rico provides care for children

Over 250 children treated at outreach clinic hosted by the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital

Outreach clinic in Puerto Rico provides care for children

For over 50 years, Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia staff members have traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to provide outpatient orthopaedic care to local children. In a collaboration between the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital and the VA Caribbean Healthcare System, the outpatient clinic uses the San Juan VA Medical Center’s facilities at no cost to patients and families.

Founded in 1966 by then Chief of Staff Howard Steel, M.D., the outreach clinic has continued to provide quality care to children in need throughout the territory. While times have changed since 1966, the mission remains the same.

During April’s clinic, the staff from the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital treated over 240 patients with services extending to scoliosis, upper and lower extremity, physical medicine and rehabilitation, wheelchair seating, radiology, and orthotics and prosthetics.

In order to prepare for the one-day clinic, most staff arrive in San Juan a day early, allowing time to unpack and set up equipment in preparation for Saturday’s clinic.

“There are many challenges in this type of outreach program. We have to assemble a fabrication lab every time we visit,” said Calli Clark, director of orthotics and prosthetics. “Fortunately, most of our equipment is stored on the island.”

Clark and her staff assemble their equipment in clinic hallways, using folding tables as makeshift workbenches. Nursing staff organize patient records while therapists unload equipment and mobility devices to be used the next day. The day begins on Saturday as staff start arriving at 5:30 a.m., preparing for the first patients' arrival around 7:30 a.m.

Seven Philadelphia Shriners Hospital physicians, including Chief of Surgery Amer Samdani, M.D., traveled to see patients at the clinic.

“After each clinic, I am left with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from providing for kids that may not have otherwise received care,” said Samdani. “I speak on behalf of all the physicians when I say it is truly one of the most rewarding experiences for us.”

Patients needing an X-ray checked in with radiology and brought their image when they met with a physician. From there they may have been referred to other staff for rehabilitative care, seating adjustments, or orthotic and prosthetic services.

Many children visit the clinic to supplement their care from local providers, while others have been treated at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital and visit the clinic to check in with their physicians and therapists.

Now 14, Luis has been a patient at our hospital for over 10 years, receiving surgical care and prosthetic services for his limb discrepancy. A Puerto Rico native, he visited the clinic for a check-up but was surprised when POPS staff provided him with a new, state-of-the-art running blade.

“Even though it’s challenging, we feel fortunate to provide orthotics and prosthetics to children who may otherwise not have access to this type of care,” said Clark.

Some families were visiting the clinic for the first time. A swimming incident resulted in the loss of his customized aquatic prosthetic leg, so 12-year-old Mauricio visited the clinic after a referral from a local Shriner. Our staff took his measurements and he will visit the hospital in June to be fitted for a new prosthesis.

In addition to clinical staff, support from local members of Shriners International and volunteers ensured that the clinic was a community effort. Shriners from the Al Rai’e Saleh chapter were on hand throughout the day to serve as translators, as well as offer food, entertainment and guidance to families.

“My first clinic experience was completely amazing,” said Pedro Rodriguez, a Shriner from Al Rai’e Saleh. “It changed my whole life. I’m 67 but I feel 20 years old when I’m helping at clinic. I’m full of energy!” Local medical students also volunteered as translators, helping clinical staff communicate more effectively with patient families.

Families travel from all over the island to receive care for a child, often bringing extended family along for the day. For the first time in the clinic’s recent history, every patient and sibling received a toy on their way out.

A smaller group of staff will return to San Juan in July to deliver orthotics and prosthetics before the hospital hosts another full-size clinic again in October.

The clinic has been ingrained in our hospitals’ history for over 50 years, and we are proud that it remains a part of our values.

“The hospitality of our local Shriners, the volunteers in clinic and our patients makes for a very rewarding trip that never loses its impact,” said Samdani.

Physician, patient and family member in clinic