Editor’s Note: In this installment of Sight Lines, J.C. Noreika, MD, MBA, talks with Thomas Ebner, MD, a community-based surgeon from Medina, OH, who, in his retirement after a fulfilling career of more than 30 years, brings his expertise, care, and compassion to the underserved of Kenya. Though Dr. Ebner’s expertise is in general orthopedic practice, his passion for volunteerism is universal among many professionals in the greater medical community, including ophthalmology. Dr. Ebner shares the challenges and insights he has gained in his second career.
Sight Lines By J.C. Noreika, MD, MBA
Dr. Noreika: In 2004, before you retired from practice, you spent several weeks in Sri Lanka in a camp for people who were displaced by the tsunami. Tell us about your experience there.
Dr. Ebner: We went about 2 months after the tsunami. Much of the orthopedic-trauma cases had been taken care of already, so we volunteered in a displaced-person camp in the eastern part of the island, where the tsunami hit.
We couldn’t believe the destruction along the beach, which is where much of the population in that area lived. They were fishermen.
For 300 yards in, everything was demolished. We met some people who had lost their families. It was just heart-wrenching.
We staffed a medical tent to treat any problems people had. It was primary care, but they appreciated having physicians to take care of them. It was very rewarding.
Dr. Noreika: You began volunteering in Kenya in 2010. How does one get involved in something like that?
Dr. Ebner: I had an interest in volunteering in the Third World in orthopedics for a number of years.
There is a service group called Samaritan’s Purse in North Carolina that is run by Franklin Graham, who is Billy Graham’s son.
I had contributed to them because they donate a lot of time and money and supplies to Third World hospitals. They accept used equipment from U.S. hospitals and doctors’ offices, refurbish them, and send them to these hospitals.
I called them and said I was a donor interested in volunteering, and they said they always need orthopedic surgeons. I had read in their literature about Tenwek Hospital, in Bomet, Kenya. I told them I would be interested in going there. They put me in touch with the full-time missionary orthopedic surgeon there, and he happened to be from Mansfield, OH, which is very close to us.
He was working by himself at that time and welcomed help. So I first went over there in 2010, and now have gone eight times. I usually go once or twice a year. Since my wife, Joyce, died [of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2004] and I’m retired, it’s very easy for me to get away.
If something comes up where one of the main orthopedic surgeons is going to be away for a while, then people like me cover for them. It’s an ongoing hospital and it needs to be kept staffed.