What did you do for your summer vacation? People ask that question at this time of year, as students prepare to return to their classrooms and the end of summer swiftly approaches.
First Selectman Dr. David Bindelgass has an unusual answer. In addition to getting some rest and relaxation in Vermont earlier in the summer, he led a team of surgeons and medical professionals who performed 35 operations over the course of a week. “This past week we took a group of 40 people to Antigua, Guatemala, including four primary surgeons of which I was the senior surgeon,” he said.
They went with an organization called Operation Walk. The organization was started by his mentor, Dr. Lawrence Dorr. Its mission is to do hip and knee replacements around the world for patients who would not otherwise be able to receive these treatments in their native countries.
The organization is based in Los Angeles with branches in about 20 cities in the U.S., Canada and Ireland. All together the groups have performed more than 10,000 surgeries over the last 20 years. This was Bindelglass’s seventh mission on three continents since 2001.
They brought nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and physical therapists, and performed 35 knee replacement surgeries. Often the problems they confronted were difficult to treat because the patients had had the disabilities for years but lacked the means to get treatment. “Furthermore, we have nowhere near the resources that we are used to at home, so often great flexibility and creativity are needed,” Bindelglass said.
He kept in touch with the Easton Town Hall remotely while he was away. “I was able to keep communicating and answer emails,” he said. “Janet and I worked out last week’s first selectman’s post. I spoke with the chief about the storm.”
Bindelglass was referring to Janet Haller, his administrative assistant. Police Chief Richard Doyle also serves as the town’s emergency operations manager. Tropical Storm Henri threatened the local area over the weekend of Aug. 21 but ultimately spared the local area. It dumped plenty of water but the heavy winds that had been forecast never materialized. Had it been a vacation, he would have cancelled the trip and stayed home, he said. Bindelglass returned Aug.28 in the early morning.
“This is always incredibly rewarding work,” he said. “The people are so grateful and we provide a chance to help them in ways that they never imagined were possible. In many cases it returns them to a level of function that allows them to return to their work and function in society. For some, they would lose their livelihood and chance to provide for their families without this vital surgery. It reminds me of why I became a doctor in the first place.”
This mission was particularly significant for two reasons, Bindelglass said. For one thing, no team had gone on a mission since the beginning of the pandemic, and they managed to complete their mission with no Covid-19 infection to any of the staff. This was a great accomplishment and will hopefully inspire other teams to move forward again, he said.
“Also, Dr. Dorr passed away last December, and this was the first mission since his death, which was extremely emotional for me and the other team members,” Bindelglass said. “Now safely back at home, I always reflect on the fact that I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do what I do, and these trips are almost as rewarding to the members of the team as to the patients.
“I hope to go on more and to help continue the success of this organization in memory of Dr. Dorr,” he said.