Dr. Philip Meinhardt and the Ethiopia Project

“I fell in love with the Ethiopian people, [with their] sweet culture,” Dr. Philip Meinhardt told me.

As soon as the plane’s wheels hit the ground in Addis Ababa, Meinhardt is ready to head over to Myunsung Christian Medical Center (MCM). They are preparing his first patient in the operating room.

“We have already reviewed x-rays and MRIs,” Meinhardt said. Dr. Rick Hodes, a renowned internal medicine physician, arranges patients prior to the surgeon’s arrival to avoid delays.

The teaching hospital, built by a Korean Presbyterian church, is located in the eastern part of the city, ten minutes from Bole International Airport. According to the Institute for International Medicine, MCC “arose from an appeal by the Ethiopian government to provide advanced medical care.” Open since 2004, the modern facility has 161 beds and five operating rooms.

“I usually stay in Addis Ababa for two-three weeks,” Meinhardt said. “I use all of my vacation time.”

Ethiopia is a landlocked East African nation with approximately 78 million people living in its massive land. It is one of the most populated countries in the continent, and it has been trying to rebuild from famines, droughts, and border wars. Unfortunately, it suffers from a shortage of doctors and nurses too.

“It’s called ‘Brain Drain,’” Meinhardt said. It’s a major issue in third world nations. Many young doctors choose to leave their countries and practice abroad for a better quality of life.

This phenomenon leaves millions of people without access to proper care. In Ethiopia, life-threatening, debilitating diseases are not diagnosed early enough. Dedicated healthcare professionals from around the world not only help give patients a better life, they also train local doctors and medical residents.

Meinhardt is originally from the Bradenton/Sarasota area. After earning his medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, he matched at Orlando Regional Healthcare System’s Orthopedic Residency program, where he met Dr. Donald Pearson, now a retired surgeon. Pearson, one of Meinhardt’s instructors, spoke of his volunteer work at MCM subsequently inspiring Meinhardt.

The project’s “goal is to revolutionize the delivery of orthopedic care in Ethiopia,” writes Pearson in his Ethiopia Project blog. Non-profit organizations, such as Conscious International, have helped raise funds for needed equipment and implants. Despite the generous help, Meinhardt and Pearson have had to provide supplies and equipment to the hospital as well.

Back home in Orlando, Meinhardt provides treatment for injuries and diseases of the back and spine at Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic.

“Modern orthopedic care depends on equipment and implants to provide good surgical outcomes,” writes Pearson. The combined effort from organizations, donors, and medical volunteers helps save patients that would otherwise succumb to their disease.

After residency, Meinhardt completed a spine surgery fellowship in North Carolina. The board certified surgeon, who joined Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic in 2010, has now been to Ethiopia six times. He plans to go back later this summer or next spring, he told me.

When he is there he operates at MCM, although he has also operated at Tikur Anbessa (Black Lion) Hospital in Addis Ababa. This is the other teaching hospital in Ethiopia. Many international residents write about Black Lion’s condition. Mold and lack of hot water put everyone’s health at risk. Meinhardt remembers having to operate with the windows open and fans cooling the room.

Sometimes, patients come to MCM with conditions that have to be treated back in the States. During one of his first trips to Ethiopia, Meinhardt was presented with a massive tumor case in a twenty-year old. It was a giant cell tumor in the young man’s shoulder. It had destroyed the bone. Meinhardt made arrangements for the patient to come to the U.S. and stay with him and his family during the treatment. Meinhardt performed a major resection and then a reconstruction.
For how long does he see himself volunteering at MCM?

“This is an ongoing project,” he told me.

As soon as his children are old enough, Meinhardt is planning to take his family with him on the Addis Ababa trips.

Back home in Orlando, Meinhardt provides treatment for injuries and diseases of the back and spine at Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic. Dr. Eugene L. Jewett, an internationally recognized orthopedic pioneer and inventor, founded the practice in 1936. His Jewett Orthopedic Hip Nail and the Jewett Hyperextension Back Brace revolutionized fracture treatment in the 1930s and 1940s.

Today, the Jewett practice has individual specialists focusing on spinal services, sports medicine, hand rehabilitation, joint replacement, foot and ankle treatment, and electrodiagnosis.

dr-philip-meinhardtMeinhardt practices in the Winter Park, East Orlando, Downtown, and Sandlake offices, offering the latest advanced treatments for his patients. For example, spine surgeons can now use a computer and patient x-rays to navigate accurately through the spine. This technology greatly helps in tumor removal procedures and for the surgeon to precisely place spinal instrumentation. Another advancement in orthopedic surgery is the artificial disc replacement procedure. This not only improves pain and function, but it also maintains some motion at the disc space. The conventional “fusion” technique actually solidly fuses that space.

In Winter Park and in Lake Mary emergency patients can visit the Jewett Orthopaedic walk-in clinics. Jewett Orthopaedic is one of the first groups to establish this type of clinic in the country. Their first convenient care clinic opened in Winter Park in 2006.

“The convenient care clinic allows for our patients to get quick resolve to the issue with proper care. No wait, and a significant cost savings in comparison to the emergency room,” stated Charles M. May, CEO.

For more information on Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic please visit jewettortho.com