Dr. Steve Schwartz, a podiatrist at Olympia Medical Center, has taken his desire to help people with debilitating foot problems outside of the office and operating room, and even outside of the U.S. border.
Schwartz recently returned from a trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he was part of a team of 25 physicians and surgical residents from around the country that traveled to the Honduran capital between Jan. 11 and 20. The group performed operations on 33 patients, and screened approximately 100 people who will now receive treatment from Honduran doctors.
The trip was organized by Operation Footprint, an organization that provides medical care and treatment for people with serious foot problems in Honduras. Schwartz has been involved with Operation Footprint since 1979, and said the organization fills a dire need for services in the impoverished nation. “We get some really, really poor people who otherwise wouldn’t get care. We’ve had people who are put on a bus in the middle of nowhere with nothing, and then they are placed on the grass in front of the hospital seeking treatment,” Schwartz said. “We are there to fill the void, and we are very proud of what we do. The reward is the warm feeling we get from helping these people.”
Schwartz, who has been with Olympia Medical Center since 1981 and is the director of residency programs in podiatry at the hospital, said he looks forward to the annual trip and the opportunity to help people. He became involved after learning about the program while he was in medical residency at USC. At the time, Operation Footprint was known as the Baja Project for Crippled Children and served people in Mexico, and later expanded to El Salvador, and now specifically serves people in Honduras. He added, however, that discussions are underway to possibly expand the project to Belize.
The majority of problems Schwartz and the team address in Honduras are known as club foot, a genetic deformity where one or both of a patient’s feet are turned in towards each other, or sometimes turned completely around. The deformity affects an individual’s ability to walk. Schwartz said in the United States, doctors correct issues with club foot at birth, and it is rarely a problem for people later in their lives. In Honduras, the doctors see patients of all ages with the condition, which has to be corrected surgically. Schwartz said some of the patients need follow up visits with the doctors in Honduras, but the American physicians are able to correct most of the problems.
“We are very proud of our skills and our ability to solve these problems, and the difficulties are minimized by the skills of the surgeons,” Schwartz said. “I have trained many of the doctors who participate in the program, and we are able to do what we need to do.”
Schwartz said the trips are subsidized by local Rotary clubs. The doctors pay for their own transportation and lodging.
“It’s something we all love to do,” Schwartz added. “It becomes something that is very important in your life.”
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