For the last 20 years, Dr. Tom Greidanus, an orthopedic surgeon, has organized and raised funds for Operation Esperanza. He and his team travel annually to Cuenca, Ecuador, to perform corrective surgery on children with clubfeet and hip and knee replacements on adults, all free of charge. The team also provides training to local doctors.

That effort earned him a Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division). The award was presented by Canada’s Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston during a December 8, 2016, ceremony. Greidanus is a member of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alta.

According to the Governor General’s website, “Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) are given to recognize remarkable contributions in many different fields of endeavour, from advocacy initiatives and health care services, to research and humanitarian efforts.”

Greidanus said that in Ecuador there is a high incidence of hip dislocation or partial dislocation among babies at birth. “This can lead to the development of arthritis at an early age, especially in women,” he said. “Dr. Manuel Avila, the local doctor we work closely with, says that of those who develop arthritis, 85 percent of the time, a husband will leave his wife if she can’t work or do very much due to pain. I feel very fortunate to be in a line of work that can make a big difference in the lives of these people who have an arthritic joint replaced. It can allow them to go back to work and can even bring families back together.”

The annual medical trip is no small venture. In addition to mountains of paperwork required each year, up to 40 prostheses (each worth approximately $2,000 CAD), 60 team members, and every bit of supplies and equipment needed are brought down to Cuenca by plane.          

While orthopedic surgeons, anesthetists, dentists, and nurses screen patients, prepare them for surgery and perform joint replacement operations, a pediatric team also operates on children, doing surgery on club feet and dislocated hips. They also provide education on how to prevent as well as screen for dislocated hips in babies. A dental team goes into schools to perform extractions, reconstructions, and education on proper dental hygiene to children.

After surgery, physiotherapists provide education and advice to speed recovery, and a local doctor conducts follow up appointments.

“The turnaround is very quick,” Dr. Greidanus said. “The average length of a patient’s hospital stay is 1.2 days. [In Canada] it’s usually three or four days. Patients there are highly motivated and their families are really supportive. Immediately after the surgery, most of the time, they’re in less pain than they were before. For those we aren’t able to help, our physiotherapists and nurses provide some pain medication, advice, instructions, and exercises to do and supply them with a cane or a walker. It’s tough not being able to help everybody.”

Dr. Greidanus intends to continue doing this work as God allows and the doors remain open. “That text in Matthew 25:40 where Jesus says, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,’ is a real inspiration for me in this work. I’m very thankful for this award, but it’s really for all the people who have supported it—the nurses and doctors, physiotherapists, and dentists who have come along in the last 20 years—and those who have supported us financially and with prayer. Without them, it wouldn’t have happened.”

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Krista dela Rosa