Barton orthopedic surgeon practices medicine overseas
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Nearly a-year-ago, Dr. Stephen Bannar, board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Tahoe Center for Orthopedics and U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team physician, found himself in on his way to Bukoba, Tanzania, with his bags packed, vaccinations complete, extra supply of anti-biotics, 200 pounds of medical supplies and fellow medical staff.
“I try to be as independent as possible,” he said modestly.
As a well-known orthopedic surgeon in Lake Tahoe, Dr. Bannar is in high-demand. He left his practice for his third volunteer trip overseas to help provide medical care to underdeveloped nations.
“They lack the necessary medical personnel, supplies and funds necessary to sustain healthy communities,” Dr. Bannar said. “Through education and medical services we are able to help people get well and even save lives.”
He also has provided his services to the island of St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean and Vietnam – each trip was a month-long, working six-days-a-week, about 10-hours-a-day.
“They have a lot less resources than us, sometimes there are no blood banks to count on and very limited anesthesia options,” he said. “Most of Africa’s hospitals have no air conditioning, they have mosquito nets and the conditions are extremely filthy.”
He also said that all of the technology is very primitive, so the medical staff is limited on the procedures they can perform.
“In one month the practice is set up, patients are covered, surgeries are completed and there is limited follow-up,” Dr. Bannar said. “Most of their equipment is broken, there are no ventilators and much of it dates back to the 1940’s and 50’s.”
In that short amount of time, he and the medical team took care of club feet, HIV/ AIDS patients, motor vehicle trauma cases, infections, amputations, fractures and skin cancer.
“Our main goal is to teach the locals how to take care of each other,” he said. “The United States gets a lot of flack from across the world. This is a great way to be a good ambassador … for others to see that we are not what we are depicted as in the papers.”
Besides the challenges of traveling to remote places, sleeping in uncomfortable dorm-like settings, dealing with mosquito nets to prevent malaria, having barbed wire around the hospitals, Dr. Bannar said helping patients who are less fortunate was worth every moment of his time.
“It is very rewarding and in reality, it forces you to be a better doctor – that’s why I do it,” he said. “To see the people so happy that you are there to help. They welcomed us with open arms.”
He has been a member of Health Volunteers Overseas for 15 years and looks forward to visiting more countries to dedicate his time.
“You learn about yourself and others … how well you can put up with discomfort … It tests your limits and abilities. This [volunteering] is just a drop in the bucket. Public service is very important. I hope people read this and it encourages them to give back locally or even nationally … there is plenty to do.”
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