Mission:BRAIN (Bridging Resources and Advancing International Neurosurgery) is a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing neurosurgical expertise and resources to patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers in underserved areas throughout the world.
In 2011 Dr. Alfredo Quiñones and Dr. Michael Lawton and their team made a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico upon the invitation of Dr. Rodrigo Ramos-Zuniga. During that trip those involved realized the need and the potential for such partnerships to advance neurosurgical care in less developed areas. More trips followed and the organization evolved over the next few years to develop educational partnerships throughout Mexico, which included participation in the Sociedad de Cirugía Neurológica De Occidenta, Mexico’s national Congress of Neurological Surgery conference. More neurosurgeons also joined including Dr. George Jallo and Dr. Theodore Schwartz. It cemented the mission focus of the organization: direct neurosurgical care, education and empowerment.
In 2014, Mission:BRAIN collaborated with Dr. Gerardo Legaspi of the Philippine General Hospital in Manila to provide neurosurgical treatment to complex cerebrovascular diseases to some of their neediest patients as well as conduct symposia for physicians, nurses and support staff, including conducting the first bypass course in the country. The organization has been going to the Philippines since providing advanced training including speech and motor awake mapping for brain tumor resection with Dr. Mitchel Berger.
Last year the organization added one more partnership in Mexico City at Hospital Juarez de Mexico and continued to expand its team with a total of six physicians altogether providing both surgical care and participation at the Congress of Neuroscience. It also collaborated with other nonprofits in an effort to provide much needed neurosurgical care in Mirebalais, Haiti where with a population of 10 million, the country only has two neurosurgeons both of whom only practice in the capital of Port Au Prince.
As more locations and partnerships are identified, Mission:BRAIN continues to be inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of its supporters and collaborators but also realizes the increasing need for resources and support. There is much work to be done, but just as our brain is made up of multitudes of neurons connected together, Mission:BRAIN is made up of many amazing individuals working together to help change the world.
My involvement with Mission: BRAIN has been one of my most meaningful and impactful experiences while in medical school. On the mission trips, I witnessed the vital importance of physicians coming together to improve the health of others on a global scale. It was not like any other mission trip I have heard of; the point of the trip was not only to operate on complex cases but to build a sustainable infrastructure and share knowledge between all members of the health care team. The patients who I met and their stories of incredible strength and perseverance through difficult situations have stayed with me; I remember so vividly the bravery of one mother who traveled alone over 20 hours via bus to get surgery for her young son while a neighbor was watching her other children. As I go forward towards a career in neurosurgery, two of the lessons I will take forward from this experience are the importance of collaboration between surgeons from all over the world to identify specific challenges to improve global health conditions and to never stop fighting to bring equal surgical care to those afflicted by brain tumors no matter where they are located or what their circumstance might be.
When I try to talk about Mission:BRAIN, I always think about two things, one is give hope to countless patients around the world and the other is the compromise of sharing all the experience and knowledge from this amazing team of experts to our clinical teams and students. Such amazing combination was a highlight for me as a student since 2015 and a personal inspiration to continue collaborating with this cause until now. With this amazing team I learned that where there are people ready to create a little change in world, there are people watching them, who would like to also follow them, because they got inspired by their example and on the other hand this may create a big difference in the world.
Mission: BRAIN is changing more than patient lives; it is slowly changing the world by giving hope to those who need the most.
Mission: BRAIN has permitted to go back to my country Mexico and help those in dire need. Personally, I wanted to make a medical mission in Mexico City and Mission: BRAIN gave me the platform to make it happen! It is absolutely amazing that “we” nurses, medical students, volunteers, and neurosurgeons from all over the world come together as a TEAM for two goals which are to give HOPE and LEARN from our peers. The more I do these outreach missions, the more I see that we need to do more of these missions and help others in need. Being able to give back to others and make a difference in someone’s life is one of the greatest gifts.
There are many reasons that we volunteer for medical missions such as Mission: BRAIN. I personally look forward to the missions where I can help the children and families without resources to access advanced or tertiary care. It is very rewarding as a surgeon to offer such services to families in need. This is in addition to sharing knowledge with the local surgeons, residents and medical students. As much as I give to the local community, they educate me in more ways than I offer. I always return home a more knowledgeable and better person with each mission. The foundation truly is bridging continents without concern for nationality, gender, race or social status.