Published: April 25, 2022

AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant: Kenya Relief Mission Trip

Robert T. Cristel, MD, from the University of Illinois - Chicago Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, traveled with a group to the small town of Migori, Kenya, with the Kenya Relief Mission in January 2022.

03 Humanitarian Travel Grant Cristel
T. Cristel, MD
University of Illinois - Chicago Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery

The Kenya Relief Mission Trip I was a part of in January 2022 was one of the best experiences of my life. The group I was with traveled to the small town of Migori, Kenya, for about seven days. We saw hundreds of patients in clinic and completed about 45 surgeries. There is a large population with thyroid goiters in the region and removing these was our most common surgery.

It was amazing to witness patients walking for 5-6 hours to our clinic to have surgery, then walking several hours to get home afterward. These patients were so resilient and inspiring. They were so appreciative of the care as they have few options to receive care otherwise. Typically, they would have to spend a significant amount of money to have these surgeries done without the help of Kenya Relief. 

We cared for patients of all ages, including several children needing adenoidectomy or ear tubes placed. Although these procedures are common in the United States, they are not accessible there despite providing such great relief for these children. One particular child had a rare chylous cyst occupying the majority of his neck that was present since birth. We were able to successfully remove this and provide life-changing care both to the patient and his parents. 

In Kenya, as well as around the world, there is a significant social stigma with having large neck masses—such as thyroid goiters—that the patients are often ostracized from their community. After having surgery, they are welcomed back into the community and are given a renewed chance to have their lives back. One young female patient in particular had an ear keloid (scar) that was extremely large and draining for years. We removed this and gave her ear a normal appearance. Prior to surgery, she was reserved and embarrassed about the keloid, but after surgery she was socializing and laughing, and was so happy with her peers. There were countless patients who had this same reaction after surgery.

This experience has forever changed my life and career. I plan to continue further mission trips around the world and provide care to communities in need. Even in the United States, there are many opportunities to help patients in great need of healthcare. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help these patients. The patients in Kenya will always hold a special place in my heart. 

More from May 2022 – Vol. 41, No. 4