Shriners Children's Outreach Clinic Goes To Cyprus
For more than 40 years, Shriners Children's physicians and clinical professionals have been traveling to Cyprus, an island country located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, to conduct an annual outreach clinic for the local and neighboring children there. During their visits, the team examines and provides medical care to both new and returning patients, offering specialized services and high-level care to children with orthopedic conditions and diseases of the limbs and spine.
This year marked the first time since the global pandemic began that Shriners Children’s staff were able to return to Cyprus. Thanks to the Shriners Children’s team, and staff and volunteers from the George and Thelma Paraskevaides Foundation, the 2023 clinic held at Nicosia General Hospital helped more than 145 patients receive care. In addition to Cyprus, patients from various countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Greece and Turkey, attended the clinic.
Helping Thousands of Children
Over the years, more than 16,000 Cypriot children have received care at the outreach clinics, and more than 4,000 have traveled to the United States for further examinations, surgeries and hospitalization.
Staff from several Shriners Children’s locations attended this year’s clinic. They include Brock McConkey, CPO, manager of pediatric orthotics and prosthetics, Shriners Children's New England; David Westberry, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, Shriners Children's Greenville; Amer Samdani, M.D., chief of surgery, Shriners Children’s Philadelphia; Jen Sanceciz, RN, outpatient nurse manager, Solomon Praveen Samuel, director of research and Henrike “Kiki” Schmalfuss, research coordinator, Shriners Children's Philadelphia; and Flor Russello, ARNP, and Laura Kozloski, executive director of international strategy, Shriners Children's.
Adding to the positive impact of the clinic this year was the long-standing collaboration between Shriners Children’s and the George and Thelmas Paraskevaidis Foundation, as well as the assistance of the Cyprus-based Alasia Shrine Club (part of the Shriners International fraternity). The foundation provided an excellent facility and support staff, and because of their positive, long-standing reputation, a greater comfort level for patients and families.
Marios was among the many eager parents seeking medical care for their children. Marios’ daughter, Aleaxandra, was seen by Dr. Samdani for a spine appointment. Making the appointment more special was the fact that Marios had been a patient of the outreach clinic in the 1980s. His treatment at the outreach clinic made a significant impact on his life. He felt it was the most compassionate, innovative care he had ever received, and was confident that his daughter would receive the same excellent care during her visit.
During this clinic, it really made me realize the millions of families our organization has touched.
As Dr. Westberry reflected on the clinic visit and the hundreds of children and families they were able to help, he stated, "We saw many similar conditions that we see at Shriners Children's in the United States: scoliosis, cerebral palsy, limb loss, limb difference, and upper and lower extremity congenital conditions. We performed evaluations throughout the entire week, recommending surgery for some, bracing and prosthetic care for others, and continued observation for the remaining patients."
The clinic also meant a lot to prosthetist Brock McConkey. "I love being able to take my skills on the road to lessen the burden on the families, so they don't have to travel to the United States,” he said. “Returning to the clinic yearly and watching the kids grow is like having a large extended family."
Shriners Children's researchers were also an integral part of the trip, collecting samples for genomics studies.
"We were conducting research all day long, collecting saliva samples the entire time,” said Henrike “Kiki” Schmalfuss. “This year, 62 patients and their parents were enrolled in the study. During our visit, we collaborated with the medical students and staff from the University of Nicosia Medical School and hope to continue building this partnership.”
Schmalfuss hopes to continue to represent the genomics study long-term and maintain the relationships created on the trip.
More Kids in More Places
After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, returning to Cyprus was even more memorable because the children and families arrived with big smiles and hugs.
"Some of the kids we have been seeing for 21 years, and some were new patients and excited to have access to the care we provide," said McConkey.
To be able to receive care close to home means so much to the families seen at the outreach clinic. Parents, caregivers, patients and volunteers expressed their gratitude to the Shriners Children’s team for traveling across the globe to provide world-class specialty care.
A common sentiment among the people providing service and assistance during the clinic is, “Building these relationships and seeing the kids grow and achieve their goals never gets old.”
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