EASTON — Dr. Khalid Kurtom has always wanted to help others, not just in the United States but around the world. He and his team recently returned from a surgical mission trip to Honduras.
“We had twelve surgeries,” the Easton neurosurgeon said. “We ended up seeing close to 70 patients.” The team left Jan. 12 and returned Jan. 18.
Kurtom’s team included Surgical First Assistant Wendy Towers, CRNP; Neurosurgical Team Lead Tyler Gogoll, RN; Surgical Nurse Thomas Busch, RN; and Surgical Equipment Specialist Steve Lykudis.
Kurtom is a member of the medical staff of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, with privileges to practice at UM SRH centers at Dorchester and Easton. He also is a clinical assistant professor in the neurosurgery department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Kurtom and his team spent a week providing care at the Holy Family Surgery Center. The center is located on The 2,000-acre Neuestros Pequeños Hermanos ranch about an hour north of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The center is funded and operated by One World Surgery.
Kurtom said the team initially thought they’d be seeing one type of case, but were quickly given more urgent cases.
“Once you get there and people see what you can do, they’re going to start showing you things that they had deemed in their minds as impossible to approach,” Kurtom said.
He said the team had initially planned on level one cases, like discectomy or laminectomy. Both are minimally invasive techniques designed to remove material that is pressing on the spinal cord. Instead, they were presented with more involved cases that required spinal fusion surgeries.
“They would start showing me cases that are more difficult,” he said. “Before you know it, the case selection went from doing maybe one spinal fusion operation to doing almost all fusion operations.”
Kurtom said the surgical mission increased in difficulty, but the team was ready to handle the challenge.
“This is the reason I take my team with me,” he said. “When we got there our first day, we didn’t get out of the surgery center until 7:30 at night because everything was difficult to adapt to. By day three, you would think we were there for months practicing.”
He praised his team for their strengths in the operating room, saying that it’s easy to forget how talented they are when everything’s going smoothly.
“It really speaks volumes about the professionalism and the qualifications of the people that are on this team,” Kurtom said. “They’re just very adaptable. They’re amazing at what they do.”
He said he’s always been driven to help others, from becoming a doctor to taking his expertise to patients in need.
“That’s something I always thought about my entire life, to offer this service somewhere in the world where they would never be able to get it,” he said.
This is the surgical team’s second overseas mission trip. In 2017, they journeyed to Jordan to treat Syrian refugees.
“’This mission’s overall theme is from Mother Theresa who said, ‘You can do things I cannot do, I can do things that you cannot do, but together we can do amazing things,’” the team posted on their Facebook page on Jan. 12.
Kurtom said he was grateful for the experiences he had and the lessons he learned on this trip.
“Even when we think we’re fortunate, we still don’t know just how fortunate we are for what we have,” he said.
He was in awe of how close the community bonds were.
“We should build closer bonds with each other, because that’s what we saw got people through their lives in other countries,” Kurtom said. “The community is basically wrapping their arms around each other and saying, ‘Hey, we can take care of each other.’”
In a message posted to the team’s Facebook page, Kurtom wrote, “We are grateful to the Honduran people for sharing their lives with us and helping us find ourselves.”
“It is abundantly clear to all of us as we conclude this mission trip that we gained more wisdom from the people we served than they received from us in healthcare,” the team posted of their Facebook page, Kurtom Neurosurgery Team Mission Trips.
“Their way of life is simple but meaningful and mindful,” the post stated on Jan. 17, the last day of the mission. “Their education is basic but their wisdom on how to live life and achieve genuine true happiness is advanced. Their resources are limited but they act and feel wealthier than we can ever feel. They are proud people, full of culture, who are infinitely grateful for even the minor things they receive.”