MACHALA, ECUADOR -- It was an orthopedic surgery marathon - 55 complex surgeries in four days performed on 45 children and 10 adults - in two tiny operating rooms in Machala, Ecuador.  And, still, the UTMB surgeons, Jay Rapley and Kelly Carmichael, say they'd leap at the chance to do it again.

As participants in an Operation Rainbow-sponsored medical mission, the duo spent 12-15 hours each day repairing club feet, femur breaks, dislocated hips, and doing other procedures such as tendon releases for eight children with cerebral palsy.  

Dr. Taylor Smith, left, one of the founders of  Operation Rainbow, Dr. Kelly Carmichael repaired a patient's dislocated hip.

"It's wonderful to provide surgery for people who desperately need surgical care and who wouldn't be able to get it otherwise," Carmichael said. "The patients are very grateful. Still, I feel I get just as much out of the experience as the patients do. It's important to give back."

Drs. Rapley and Carmichael were joined by two colleagues, Taylor and Chris Smith, also graduates of UTMB.  Chris Smith, who is an orthopedic surgeon in Houston, received his residency training at UTMB.  And his father, Taylor Smith, now of San Francisco, who was one of the founders of Operation Rainbow and who led the most recent mission trip, got his medical degree at UTMB.

Completing a 26-member team were three anesthesiologists from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, nine California nurses, anesthesiology and surgery techs, coordinators and helpers.  The group saw about 250 patients in the clinics.

"It was an incredible experience - pure medicine," Rapley said. "You can examine a patient, tell them what they need, and with equipment, time and know-how, you can take care of it in a one-week period. It's a very pure doctor-patient relationship," he said.

Local physicians participated in the surgeries and will continue the patients' care. Follow-up is also possible via e-mail.

Carmichael said the hospital in Machala was clean and organized; patients had been prioritized before the teams' arrival. The surgeons returned to UTMB the first week of June.

Operation Rainbow, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, arranges five to six volunteer medical missions throughout the world each year. Medical personnel pay their own way and provide their own supplies. They are limited to two 50-pound cases each. Founded in Houston, the organization now is based in San Francisco. The missions focus on providing orthopedic care for children and young adults in Central and South America

The nondenominational missions provide working practitioners an opportunity to exchange ideas and to learn about each other's cultures while providing free humanitarian medical services to children in need.

Ecuador is located in western South America on the Pacific Ocean at the equator between Colombia and Peru