AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant Report: AIC-CURE International Children’s Hospital, Kijabe, Kenya
“While we remained busy surgically, it was a privilege to work alongside the hospital staff and be a part of continuing education for them and for myself.”
Kaitlin July O'Brien, MD
A life in service to others. This is a common thread for many who enter the field of medicine. And we do help others daily; we also sometimes have the opportunity to serve those without readily available access to care, as well as support our fellow colleagues in their endeavors. I was privileged to have the chance to serve, educate, and learn alongside our partners in Kijabe, Kenya, in March 2023, when I was in my pediatric otolaryngology fellowship at Vanderbilt University.
AIC-CURE International Children’s Hospital in Kijabe, Kenya, has been a cornerstone in the community since 1998, serving 8,000 children per year along with their weekly outreach clinics. This specialty hospital, focusing on orthopedic, plastic, and ENT surgeries, has grown rapidly over the last several years, cementing itself as a pillar within the mountainside community for the healthcare of children in East Africa.
I was fortunate to be a small part of a long-standing otolaryngology team, who returns annually and has done so for the past 25 years. I traveled with my attending Ryan H. Belcher, MD, MPH (pediatric ENT), and Jared Christophel, MD (facial plastics), Kerry Kreidel (pediatric anesthesia), and three additional team members, each of whom had made prior trips. Our goal was to spend a week working with the AIC-CURE staff and patients from the region to treat cleft lip and palates. In five days, we saw about 50 patients in clinic and performed almost 40 surgeries. Our team was joined by two Nairobi plastic surgery residents and an ENT attending from Kijabe Hospital, Bryce R. Noblitt, MD, who fortuitously was my senior resident during my training!
The opportunity to collaborate with and teach the Nairobi plastics residents about cleft surgery and to learn not only about their training but the dynamics of medicine in Kenya was incredible and enlightening. We worked together in the operating rooms as well as talked over dinners of chapati about their journeys in medicine and goals for the future. It was a delight to operate once again with my residency colleague, Dr. Noblitt, in his operating room and to see the incredible impact he is having on the community. While we remained busy surgically, it was a privilege to work alongside the hospital staff and be a part of continuing education for them and for myself. It felt seamless to work beside them and take care of our young patients and their families with the same compassion and dedication.
The support the AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant provided helped make this experience possible, and I am appreciative. I am beyond grateful to have had this opportunity to serve and learn alongside the staff at AIC-CURE in Kijabe and impact so many lives—the patients, their families, the staff, and my own—in doing so. It was an honor to be a part of a team whose mission is to leave a lasting effect through education and compassion.