By Paul Everest/London /Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
A trio of recent Western University medical school graduates are leaving behind a legacy of environmental stewardship and helping health care providers in developing countries.
As if they weren’t busy enough working to become doctors through the university’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Nathan Stall, Yoan Kagoma and Jen Bondy established Operation Green, a program where unused but open surgical supplies from a number of Ontario hospitals are donated to those in need around the world.
Stall, 25, said the program was born in the spring of 2010 when he, Kagoma and Bondy were in their second year of studying medicine.
They had completed a research study at that time which looked at the amount of waste generated through knee operations.
“We found that there was a tremendous amount of waste associated with just the knee replacement alone,” Stall said. “So all the knee replacements in Canada in one year, the waste they produced was equivalent to 2,000 garbage trucks by volume.
“That’s just one surgery and you can imagine all the other types of surgeries, hip replacements, cardiac surgeries and then the waste that would add up from that is phenomenal.”
Stall said he and his team noticed that many of the supplies opened during a surgical procedure end up not being used and are thrown out, a practice he calls “surgical overage.”
“Because operating rooms are areas where we want to operate at high efficiency, the nurses will often prepare the items in anticipation for their usage so that they’re ready right when the surgeon asks for them so there’s no delay,” he said, adding most of the items were still usable. “This was the genesis of Operation Green, trying to reduce the amount of surgical overage and seeing if we could do something with these items.”
The students began looking for ways in which the surgical supplies, which include gloves, sutures, surgical drapes, gauze packs and even cardiac catheters, could be used and kept out of landfills or waste incinerators.
They found a program based out of Yale University in Connecticut called the Remedy project, which donates unused medical supplies to non-profit organizations around the world.
“We thought, if they’re doing it in the States, we should be able to do it here in Canada,” Stall said.
After Kagoma visited Yale to see how the project worked, the students launched a pilot project at Western when they returned to school in the fall of 2010 with the assistance of their research supervisor, Dr. Douglas Naudie, an orthopedic surgeon at University Hospital.
Stall said the team began collecting supplies at the hospital and they received enthusiastic support from nurses, staff and medical students.
Before long, the program expanded to include London’s other hospitals as well as hospitals in Windsor, Chatham and Toronto.
One example of how the supplies can be used is taking a drape opened for surgery in Canada and never used and having a doctor in another country use it to cover a surgical table during a liver biopsy.
Or unused gloves can be used to protect health care workers handling hazardous materials.
With a growing collection of supplies to donate, Stall said, the team began looking for an organization to partner with that would be able to distribute the items.
“We didn’t have the wherewithal or the knowledge of specifically which region in the world requires which items,” he said.
Eventually, the team came across International HOPE, an organization started by an operating room nurse in Winnipeg.
“So there’s people with tremendous knowledge about the supplies they are receiving and they’ve been doing this for several years,” Stall said. “That was really the issue, finding someone who would know the needs of our recipients and also having the capacity to be able to distribute it in a just way and a sustainable way.”
Roma Maconachie, International HOPE’s past-president, said her organization takes the items and donates them to individuals or groups, such as the Sudanese Association of Manitoba or church groups working in third-world countries, that have the money to ship the supplies overseas.
“They pay for the transportation and we do all the preparing of the goods,” she said.
She added the items her organization receives are distributed to 30 countries including Malawi, Nigeria, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, the Philippines, Peru and the Ukraine and contributions from Operation Green have “helped significantly” in making sure health care providers in those countries have access to the supplies they need.
The organization tells Operation Green what supplies will be most useful in a particular country and Maconachie said the items the program sends to International HOPE “are of great quality.”
She added her organization receives “palettes that are stacked with 100 to 150 boxes of supplies” from Operation Green several times a year.
The first two shipments from Operation Green sent in 2011 contained nearly 600 kilograms of supplies worth an estimated $26,875.
Stall said because of the customs process the supplies have to go through when being shipped overseas, there is no way to guarantee the items wouldn’t be opened and inspected at some point in their travels.
“We have a disclaimer that goes with them to not use these items unless they choose to re-sterilize them themselves.”
Or, he added, the items can be used in procedures where the “absolute sterility” required in an operating room is not required, such as procedures in a doctor’s office where a drape is required to cover a dirty table.
Stall, Kagoma and Bondy graduated from Western on May 18.
Stall is pursuing internal medicine in Toronto, Kagoma is practising diagnostic radiology at McMaster University and Bondy is pursuing family medicine at McMaster.
But the trio has left the program in the hands of current medical students at Western who will continue to collect and ship the supplies.
Stall said even though he, Kagoma and Bondy are seen as the program’s creators, a large number of people made the project a success.
“It’s really a very collaborative initiative and I think that’s what makes it such a rewarding thing to work with,” he said. “People are inspired by it. They recognize that waste is an issue in healthcare.
“They also recognize that we waste a lot of usable things that people in need abroad could really make use of.”