A Medical Mission Trip to Micronesia We Will Never Forget

Rewarding two weeks in Palau included 25 joint replacement surgeries and treatment for 75 other locals

Dr. Bradley Crow and Emily Crow in Palau on a orthopedic medical mission trip | Muir Ortho | Bay Area, CA
Dr. Bradley Crow and Emily Crow, PA, at Belau National Hospital in Palau

My husband, Dr. Bradley Crow, and I just returned from an incredible experience on our orthopedic medical mission trip to Palau, Micronesia. Palau is a remote island with limited options for orthopedic care available. Many of the people living there have very little, do not complain, and are happy despite living with severe arthritis or disability.

Our trip was organized by Canvasback Missions located in Benicia, California. Dr. Crow learned about Canvasback Missions when treating a member of the organization for her knee replacement. We have done other nonmedical mission trips in the past and were pleased to join the Canvasback Missions Team. Our team included approximately 18 essential team members consisting of surgeons, physician assistants, nurses, operating room technicians, physical therapists, and anesthesiologists.

While in Palau, we treated over 100 patients in the clinic with injections and basic procedures. Between the two surgical teams on our mission, we were able to do a record number of surgeries, including 25 joint replacements, over the two weeks we were there. This was thanks in large part to a very generous donation of implants from Zimmer Biomet.

Each patient was grateful to have surgery and eager to walk with less pain and deformity. Making a trip like this made the whole Canvasback Missions Team realize how lucky we are to have immediate access to healthcare, orthopedic specialists and modern medical technology.

Two patients in particular really touched our hearts, Titus and Bluu. Dr. Crow and I will never forget their stories.

Last minute miracle for Titus

Emily Crow with Titus recovering from his knee replacement performed during a medical mission trip | Muir Ortho | SF Bay Area, CA
Titus with Emily after his knee replacement

Titus was one of the first patients who walked through the doors of the clinic. He needed a crutch to walk and had bowing of his left leg from advanced arthritis known as a varus deformity. Unfortunately, his case was so severe it required specialized implants to adequately address his problem.

Titus had been waiting for years for a knee replacement, so helping him was one of our top priorities. With an approximate $3 minimum wage on the island, not everyone can afford to fly to the Philippines or Taiwan for treatment from an orthopedic surgeon and this was the case for Titus. His only option was to wait for the arrival of the team from Canvasback Missions.

Luckily, our local Zimmer Biomet representative was with us and he started an urgent plea to see if we could get the needed implants. Zimmer Biomet generously approved to donate the implants, but the obstacle of getting the implants there on time still remained. With quick thinking of all those involved, Zimmer Biomet overnighted the implants to another surgeon who would be joining our team at the tail end of our visit.

Despite weather conditions, the implants arrived just in time for the surgeon to personally bring them on his flight to Palau. We were ecstatic to tell Titus the implants had arrived and we were going to be able to perform the surgery he has been waiting for.

Titus was one of the last cases we did while we were there. It was a complex case, Dr. Crow and the other surgeon performed the surgery together. Titus did extremely well following the procedure. He was up walking the same day and was so happy he even danced a little!

Resilient woman finally gets knee replacement surgery

Bluu with Dr. Crow after a knee replacement surgery

Bluu’s vibrant personality stood out to me immediately, it was infectious. She never complained about her knees even though they caused her a great deal of pain and difficulty with daily life. Both of her knees had severe osteoarthritis and her X-rays showed evidence of prior injury. Her shin bone, or tibia, was deformed, and she had deep scars on both of her lower legs.

Several years ago, Bluu’s injuries were caused when her husband attacked her with an axe to her legs, fracturing her tibia. This violence led to post traumatic osteoarthritis of her knees. Through Bluu, we learned that her story is not uncommon and that many on the smaller island deal with domestic violence.

Because her surgery was early in our trip, we were able to see her in the outpatient clinic for follow-up. She was recovering well, walking with a cane, and doing her physical therapy. Watching her recovery made us so grateful to improve her quality of life, especially after what she had endured.

Until next time, Palau

At the end of our two weeks it was time to head home. Leaving knowing that there is still a need was difficult. So many more patients in Palau would benefit from our care. The work during our trip was hard but could not have been more rewarding. We were fortunate to work with such a great team of volunteers and such a dedicated organization. We look forward to another trip with Canvasback Missions in the future to do more good work.

If you would like to help, please visit Canvasback Missions and consider volunteering or making a donation.