Dr. Kevin Geffe of Diamond State Surgical Associates traveled last month for a humanitarian mission to remove tumors, cancers and provide other life-saving surgical procedures to those in need.
There are about 8,250 miles between Middletown and the city of Sirsi in Karnataka, India. That’s how far Dr. Kevin Geffe of Diamond State Surgical Associates traveled last month for a humanitarian mission to remove tumors, cancers and provide other life-saving surgical procedures to those in need.
This was Geffe’s second journey across the world in less than a year. Last April, he traveled with a group of other Delaware doctors to Nepal to assist those affected by the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the country.
Geffe is a general surgeon with a busy schedule at his solo practice on Bunker Hill Road. The 38-year-old is also the father to two young boys who didn’t want their dad to travel abroad again. Yet, with all these responsibilities Geffe made the decision to venture outside of the comforts he enjoys in the United States for a week of 18-hour days of surgeries in an area of India desperate for his skills and talents.
The trip was a service project organized and sponsored by the International Rotary Club and its local chapter in Lewes. Twenty four medical professionals, including five physicians from Delaware participated in the humanitarian mission. Geffe was the only surgeon in the team.
Everyone in the group paid for their own flights as well as other expenses while in India, something that Geffe said shows the level of motivation participants had to answer the calls for help from the other side of the globe.
“When you volunteer you’re responsible for your travel and things like that, and that’s something that some people may not conceptualize,” Geffe said. “I was also out of the office for an entire week, losing revenue for my practice, but that’s just how important it was for me to go and help those in need.”
Dr. Kevin Geffe is in the middle of one of the 32 surgeries he performed at the Rotary Charity Hospital in Sirsi. During his one week stay, Geffe fixed hernias, removed tumors, and provided other procedures that improved lives and potentially saved lives. SUBMITTED PHOTO The hospital
Though India today has very modern cities that are comparable to those in the U.S., there are still many poor people living in that country – particularly farmers who live in remote areas and lack access to quality medical care.
The team Geffe was traveling with saw patients in some of those villages as well as at the Rotary Charitable Hospital which was founded in 1985 by the Sirsi Rotary Club. The charitable hospital is a four-story building with medical staff, but lacking in many areas when compared to hospitals in the U.S.
Before Geffe’s arrival, local newspaper articles in Sirsi announced that a group of doctors from the U.S. was going to be seeing patients. People with many types of ailments rushed to be seen.
“When we arrived there was a small opening ceremony, but then we hit the road running,” Geffe said. “I did 32 operations in five days, the most operating I’ve ever done in one week.”
Most of the surgeries Geffe performed were for hernias – a protrusion in organ tissue. Geffe said that he was surprised that many of those suffering from hernias were unusually young patients.
“These were people my age who were coming with big hernias and it frightened me. By the third and fourth day that this was going on I realized that these were young people who were out there working as hard as they can for years and that’s what happened to them,” Geffe said.
There were two patients, however, that left him with a deep impression – a man in his 50s whose arm needed amputation and a 23-year-old woman with ovarian cancer.
The man whose arm needed amputation had suffered a serious burn from scalding water three weeks before seeing Geffe.
“Health care there is carried out much differently than here, so basically they gave him some Benadryl and some cotton balls and told him to come back in a couple of weeks for a skin graft,” Geffe explained. “At the point that I saw him my recommendation was for an amputation – it was that badly infected, the tissue was dead; he barely had any motor movement and minimal sensation.”
The man refused to have his arm amputated due to the stigma some amputees face in Indian culture. Geffe said that no matter how much he and other doctors told him that the infection was serious, he did not want his arm amputated.
“So in the end I took him to the operating room and spent three hours just cleaning or removing all the dead tissue and try to give him a fighting chance,” Geffe recalled. “We gave him antibiotics and gauze and taught the nurses how to bandage his arm. We set him up for the best result as we could.”
Geffe said that he isn’t sure about the man’s prognosis, but that there was a 40 to 50 percent chance that the arm was saved.
The case of the 23-year-old woman with ovarian cancer is also something that Geffe said he may never forget.
The young woman had been cast away from her village after her husband had left her over the unknown malady. Upon examining her, Geffe suspected she had cancer and urged surgery.
As Geffe and other medical staff prepared for the surgery, the patient laid waiting on a cold metal gurney, without even the comfort of a blanket. When he came out of the operating room and saw her like that he cringed in disbelief that a patient would receive that type of treatment.
But the worst was yet to come. After making the first incision Geffe said he knew his diagnosis was correct.
“She had two large masses and it had spread to her other organs,” Geffe explained. “I ended up removing the tumors, but the cancer was everywhere. So, this was not a life-saving operation, but more a palliative operation.”
The surgery would only give the woman one more year to live, but at least it would be a year in less pain. Without the surgery her cancer-covered colon would have ruptured because it was getting more blocked by the day, Geffe said, and that would have been torturous.
The woman’s mother was so grateful for what Geffe had done and though she didn’t have any money, she somehow managed to purchase a gift for him which he didn’t open until he returned to Delaware.
Dr. Kevin Geffe removes a tumor from a patient’s throat at the Rotary Charity Hospital. This was his second humanitarian mission in less than two years. SUBMITTED PHOTO Back home
Geffe told his staff at the medical practice and his children stories of what went on during the trip to Sirsi so they could understand why he went.
“This was as much for me as it was for my children. To teach them that where much is given, much is expected,” Geffe said. “Everything in medicine is not about making many, but about using what God has given you – talents and gifts – and use them for good.”
Geffe’s children eventually opened the gift the mother of the patient had given him back in Sirsi. It was a pink plastic desk clock with two hearts and the word “love” on it. The names of the two women had been neatly hand written with a marker at the clock’s base along with a phone number.
During the interview for this article, when Geffee recalled how seeing the gift made him feel, it brought him to tears.
“I remember telling my boys that they had also helped save this young lady,” Geffe said. “I took care of many patients, but if I had just gone to take care of her it would have been worth every cent I lost from being away from my practice, and the time being away from my children. That’s how much helping her meant to me.”
Deanna Samluk, who works in the office at Diamond State Surgical Associates, said that Geffe and his trips have been an inspiration to her and many others.
“Dr. Geffe is the most selfless person and physician I have ever come across. He puts his work before himself and delivers exceptional care to each patient he comes in contact with in life,” she said. “His mission trips are truly inspiring and the lives he touches across the world are evident in his work performed. Hearing the stories of how unfortunate others are in the world helps me to reflect on how blessed we are to receive care in America from doctors like him.”
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