Posted by: calloftheandes | January 25, 2011

Specialty Medical Work in Ecuador Helps Children Walk

Conversations in English are exchanged as a team of surgeons performs the language of love on a little Ecuadorian boy’s legs to transform his walking and running.

It’s a multinational team whose members on this particular day are from Chile, Ecuador, Germany and the U.S. These pediatric orthopedists around a Hospital Vozandes-Quito surgical table are equalizing the length of 8-year-old Erick Tandazo’s legs. Erick, along with 29 other Ecuadorian children, will get a decent shot at mobility due to operations performed beginning on Monday, Jan. 10, by surgeons volunteering their time. They plan to do the last surgery on Jan. 26.

Minnesota physicians Dr. Steven Sundberg and medical resident Dr. John Wechter worked with Chilean physician Dr. Leonardo Pavesi. They were assisted by Minnesotan surgeon Dr. Jim Gage and Dr. Eckehart Wolff, a German medical missionary to Ecuador for more than 20 years.

“All who come, including most of the South American physicians, are coming at their own expense to do this,” said Gage, who assembled a surgical team again this year. He has served as medical director at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, an independent, nonprofit hospital in St. Paul, Minn. The facility focuses on pediatric medical treatment and research.

Dr. Eckehart Wolff (left) and Dr. Jim Gage (right)

Gage’s counterpart in Ecuador is Wolff, whose surgical work at Hospital Vozandes-Shell brings him into contact with kids who walk with great difficulty or not at all. It all began in the mid-1990s at an invitation by HCJB Global’s Dr. Wally Swanson for Gage to do surgical work at Hospital Vozandes-Shell.

“The first year I came down I did bilateral hip surgery on a little child who had dislocated hips. Dr. Wolff ended up doing his aftercare, so he contacted me,” Gage remembered. The following year the physicians linked up for more pediatric orthopedic operations with Wolff compiling the initial work-up, then assisting Gage in surgeries and helping with the aftercare.

Associates at the Gillette hospital began accompanying the soft-spoken Gage on these trips to Ecuador, and the children’s mobility ministry began growing. Formerly, pre-surgery work-up (patient histories review and patient exam) to select from dozens of children was initially done by just Wolff and Gage. With enough surgeons to form two teams, this goes more quickly now. Five of the surgeons came from Gillette this year.

As iron sharpens iron, so too the pediatric orthopedists find learning in this compassionate endeavor interesting and fun, albeit the 15-hour days are tiring. A hospital chain in Chile (named Teletón à la Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethons) has taken to sending physicians annually to Quito. “I think this little program has become the focus of neuromuscular work for all of South America,” said Gage.

“We could not perform this type of surgery in very many (medical) centers,” Sundberg added. “If we were at a small hospital that did not have excellent anesthesia staff, and good operating room staff, we couldn’t do these operations. So it’s a testament to the quality of care here that we can even achieve this.” He also mentioned the hospital’s C-arm fluoroscopy, or moving x-ray picture, which takes an x-ray of a patient and displays it on a viewing screen.

This year’s 17 participants included physicians Ana Paula Tedesco and Leonardo Abrahao from Brazil; Alejandro de la Maza and Pavesi from Chile; Luis Becerra, Astrid Medina and Camilo Turriago from Colombia; Mattias Egberth, Martha Hernández and Wolff from Ecuador; and Mike Healy, Steven Koop, David Krupka, Thomas Novacheck, Gage, Sundberg and Wechter from the U.S.

Of Wolff’s several dozen toughest cases in the last year, the team selected 30 patients for surgeries. A patient’s gait can be affected by various syndromes, and because of the complexity of the cases, two surgical teams often work simultaneously on the same patient.

Under the surgical lamps, Pavesi, Sundberg and Wechter affix orthopedic plates to little Erick’s femur bone. Gage dutifully notes the procedure in a document on his laptop, exchanging information with his colleagues. Then he patiently explains to a visitor just what team members are attaining in their work.

Early in his career, Gage volunteered in children’s surgeries and discovered that this became the favorite part of his week. Then it became his life’s work in Connecticut and Minnesota, and later in Ecuador.

“I tell people I’m a missionary too; I’m just home on furlough a lot more,” he chuckled. Passionate about kids, mobility and surgical techniques, the 72-year-old continues bringing them all together even in semi-retirement.

In the months afterwards as Wolff provides follow-up to the children, he will watch and rejoice as the miracles of mobility occur.


  1. […] could take some time to get done, but only we Westerners (missionaries) complained,” recounted German surgeon Dr. Eckehart Wolff who served alongside Clayton at the […]

  2. […] the annual trip to Ecuador this year. It was the first time in many years that he did not head up the annual volunteer effort which began in the mid-1990s in Shell, Ecuador, a five-hour drive southeast of […]

  3. por favor quisiera ponerme en contacto con la señora Libia Orellana, si leyera esto alguien quien la conosca . Trabaja en administración de farmacia del Hospital Voz Andez en Shell Ecuador. Mi nombre Flavio Zambrano Santi.
    . Si pudieran ponerme en contacto con ella. mi correo electrónico es el Mil gracias de antemano.

  4. […] Dr. Eckehart Wolff, whose surgical work at the mission’s jungle hospital in Shell brings him into contact with kids who walk with great difficulty or not at all, coordinates many of the details of the doctors’ annual visit to Quito and does follow-up work with patients, including spiritual care. “There were lots of good spiritual conversations with the parents,” he said. […]

  5. Amdaos Wolf
    que bendicion econtrarlos en internet
    soy Rosa Ponce, Chilena, años 97-98 en Quito Ecuador, Iglesia Presbisteriana, San Marcos.
    Necesito me respondan con una direccion de Alba Leon
    Hoy estoy en Alemania y necesito saludarla
    Que el Señor Jesus siga bendiciendo las obras que El les ha encomendado
    Un abrazo

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