Dr. Partington has returned from his latest visit to Papua New Guinea (Bougainville)! Read on to learn about his experiences and how he helps the local community.
I have been to Nepal on three occasions in the past five years. Twice with ReSurge International and once with Healing the Children. Most of my work there is focused on burn surgery. When I first started going there, there were no formally trained surgeons in the country. We are thrilled to have now an internationally taught hand surgery fellowship in Kathmandu for Nepalese surgeons, both plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons!
Burns are everywhere in the world and take the same horrible form. I work in and support the work of a burn unit started by a venerable friend of mine who is a Nepali plastic surgeon named Shankar Rai.
The Bougainville trio was my latest mission. I went there solo without institutional backing to explore the medical infrastructure. I quickly found that essentially, there is none. The people there are still living in the destructive wake of a 10 year plus civil war, during which the hospital, roads, schools, and municipalities were bombed out. Medicine today on the island of Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, is largely traditional and remote village-based.
Consequently, I spent a lot of time hiking out to grass hut worlds at the invitation of each tribe’s chief. I met many children who had never seen a white person. Most people were super welcoming, some were understandably skeptical, and a few were violently threatening to me. (Once in the bush I was ambushed and held at machete and gunpoint by two natives that tried to kill me… a narrow escape …)
In contrast to Nepal where I operate a lot and treat large clinics of people, I only operated on one man (removing a growth from his neck in a makeshift kitchen OR) and treated an elderly neighbor for malaria. The purpose of my visit was to assess the possibilities of the place for improvement; the possibilities are indeed wide in scope!
I have been doing pro bono international (and domestic) work since completion of my surgical training in 1991. My first trip was to Shanghai to teach (and learn) microsurgery. Since then I’ve worked extensively in Asia, Africa, and South America.
I do this work and will continue to because it gives my life meaning. To be able to go to a foreign setting and be welcomed and trusted that I am there to help gives me great satisfaction. And to do my best to both heal others and to teach others how to heal their own is my purpose. It also heals me.