HOUSTON (May 13, 2015)
Dr. Rick Ngo

For many uninsured residents in the Houston area, it’s a challenge to pay for a much-needed surgery and to take a day off from work to have it performed. The result is a life with daily pain or frequent emergency room visits because they can’t bear it anymore. Neither option is good, so the Texas Gulf Coast Project Access (TGCPA) “Surgical Saturday” initiative was recently launched to help make a difference in the lives of many.

The TGCPA is a pilot project partnership between Memorial Hermann and Gateway to Care that unites healthcare providers such as Southwest Surgical Associates, Memorial Pathology Consultants, United Surgical Partners International, Greater Houston Anesthesiology in partnership with USAP and a host of neighborhood primary care clinics in a collaborative effort to provide free surgeries and medical procedures to uninsured residents in the Houston community.

The inaugural Surgical Saturday event kicked off April 25 with Rick Ngo, MD, a General Surgeon with Southwest Surgical Associates, providing three, pre-selected patients with pro bono surgeries at their office on the campus of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital.

“The impetus for the project is to demonstrate that the Houston healthcare community can join together to measurably and profoundly impact the lives of residents who do not have access to the care they desperately need,” said Carol Paret, Senior Vice President and Chief Community Health Officer, Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation.

“This project encourages local surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other medical professionals to volunteer to perform – at no charge – procedures that patients have sometimes waited months or years to have, but were unable to afford,” said Paret.

One of the goals of the TGCPA initiative is to serve as a call-to-action to highlight the “medical missions at home” opportunities available to medical professionals. While many travel abroad to lend a hand, there are thousands of people in their own backyard who also need their expertise and care.

“We are honored to contribute to this year’s Surgical Saturday Event in partnership with the surgeons and facilities we serve,” said Brandon May with U.S. Anesthesia Partners. “We’re happy this year’s event was a great success for our community and for those who need access to high quality surgical care.”

Dr. Ngo volunteered his services for the inaugural Surgical Saturday and performed two laparoscopic gallbladder and cyst removals. Although not life threatening, such conditions can hinder a person’s ability to live a pain-free and productive life.

“I have been blessed personally in many ways and Surgical Saturday is my chance to help others who have tried to navigate the normal avenues and resources to attain surgical care without luck,” said Dr. Ngo, who has traveled to Guatemala several times on medical missions. “I’m really grateful that I have the opportunity to help them and give back to my community.

“I believe that many physicians do want to volunteer,” Dr. Ngo continued. “Often it’s just a matter of the opportunity presenting itself. I think Surgical Saturday is a great opportunity for physicians in the area to be able to provide their skills and resources to help others without having to travel internationally on a medical mission trip. They can do it in their own backyard.”

Idonia L. Gardner, Executive Director of Gateway to Care, said Surgical Saturday is important because it enables patients to have a surgery performed without missing work during the week. But the project also has another benefit.

“This type of program, with partners coming together for the public good, helps the community,” Gardner said. “When you talk about individuals who are sick and experiencing pain, this type of surgery is able to relieve that pain and reduce sick time off. It also helps curtail visits to the emergency room, which we all know is the most costly kind of care. So, Surgical Saturday is really beneficial to both the patient and the community at large.”

Gardner added that the goal is to have Surgical Saturday twice a year and urged health professionals to volunteer their services for future events.

The importance of Surgical Saturday was not lost on Gabriela Arellano, one of three patients pre-selected from neighborhood primary care clinics to receive free surgery. Arellano, 40, was suffering with chronic cholecystitis, an inflammation that can result in the gallbladder becoming gangrenous if left untreated.

“I am really grateful for this surgery,” Arellano said. “I was living in pain because I could not afford to pay for surgery. Now, I will be able to do things normally without pain. I appreciate what was done for me. It will make my life better.”