Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas’ new director of Global Health said his son could have died from a common, treatable disease if it had not been detected in time.
Ric Bonnell, a pediatric emergency room doctor, adopted his son, Mackenson, and four other children from Haiti—where diabetes often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Mackenson, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, now receives treatment in the U.S. where he lives with his family, but children in Haiti and other developing countries die regularly from treatable diseases and conditions, Bonnell said.
“For kids in developing countries with chronic medical problems, often times that’s a death sentence although [the diseases] are things that are easily and relatively inexpensively treated here in the developed world,” he said.
For the past eight years Bonnell and his wife, Wendy—also a pediatrician—have participated in medical relief missions to Haiti and established a diabetes clinic there. Now Bonnell is bringing his global perspective and expertise to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, located in North Austin, where he will coordinate international medical aid trips and charity work.
“The goal is to develop a consistent philosophy for how the hospital will approach global outreach projects, and that philosophy is to create long-term, sustainable relationships with native providers in developing countries,” he said. “So instead of going as a team from a hospital and seeing patients in a clinic and coming back, we’re looking to augment [the health care system in place] and focus on training [native providers].”
The Dell Children’s Department of Global Health launched in November and aims to deliver medical care, support and training in three countries—Guatemala, Kenya and Haiti—where chronic diseases such as epilepsy and diabetes claim thousands of lives each year, according to the World Health Organization. The program will also include partnerships with local nonprofits that sponsor international pediatric patients.
Although some Dell Children’s physicians were already involved in global outreach, the new initiative will centralize efforts and mirror similar programs at other large hospitals, said Coburn Allen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dell Children’s who contributes to the Global Health initiative.
William Van Pelt, CEO of Austin-based medical nonprofit HeartGift, said his organization will work with Dell Children’s this year to provide 12 surgeries, free of charge, to children from developing countries with congenital heart defects.
“In some countries, not only is surgery not available in the entire country, but they even have a hard time getting the diagnosis,” Van Pelt said. “The medical care for that is even hard to find.”
The surgeries that Dell Children’s surgeons have volunteered to provide through Heart Gift can easily cost more than $150,000, Van Pelt said.
Kendyl Richards is the executive director of Austin Smiles, a nonprofit that provides reconstructive plastic surgery to children in Texas and Latin America, and said collaboration is key when coordinating international medical aid.
Austin Smiles has worked with Dell Children’s to provide services such as cleft lip or palate repair, she said.
“With Dell, we work side by side constantly for health outreach,” Richards said. “If there are resources that are already in place, it makes so much more sense for us all to collaborate together so we can provide the best medical treatment protocol. It’s what’s best for the patient.”
Bonnell said he is looking forward to working with local organizations and potentially expanding the program’s outreach to additional countries.
“There’s more need in the world than any one institution in the U.S. can provide, but if, in collaboration, all the children’s hospitals are taking part and working together, long-term we can make a difference,” he said.
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