Spinal Health International (SHI) was formed in 2009 by Chester E. Sutterlin, III, MD and Maya Zahn-Saucier, BS Biology to organize their efforts to improve the availability and quality of spinal health care in underprivileged countries. SHI is a private, secular, non-profit, voluntary organization whose primary goal is to educate and train surgeons, nurses, therapists, and other allied spinal healthcare givers by utilizing competent and caring volunteers from the USA and other developed nations.
A normal, healthy spine is essential to overall human function and form. An injured, degenerative, diseased, or deformed spine can have profound adverse effects on human life, in terms of both quality and longevity. These spinal problems can be particularly devastating in underprivileged, poorly developed, third world countries where existence itself depends on a person’s ability to perform manual labor. Access and quality of treatment is usually compromised and suboptimal. However, improvement is certainly possible as most surgeons, nurses, therapists and others involved are intelligent, resourceful, talented, and highly motivated. Theyoften need further education to supplement their knowledge base, demonstration of surgical techniques, assistance in overcrowded, understaffed clinics, mentoring in the operating theater, and insight into more comprehensive, coordinated, and organized spinal care programs.
Thenature of spinal disorders that impact human life are similar in all countries and locales. Their distribution, prevalence, and severity may differ between wealthy and poor nations and often depend on nutrition, environmental quality, social and political stability, population genetics, overpopulation, and other factors. For example, initial efforts of SHI are focused on Nepal where a common malady is spinal infection by tuberculosis(TB) which is known as Pott’s disease.
This disease is uncommon in the USA and other developed countries. The infecting organism , Mycobacterium tuberculosis, gains access to the body via the pulmonary system(lungs) and can spread throughout the bloodstream. These organisms can thus gain access to the spine. Of course, the spinal column provides structural support for the entire torso, head, and extremities, motion for proper performance of human activity, and protection of the spinal cord which relays all bodily information to and from the brain. When tuberculosis infection of the spine progresses these functions are compromised. Structural support is impaired resulting in painful instability of the spinal column resulting in deformity(kyphosis) and gibbus formation(hump). Spinal column motion is affected by pain, instability, and deformity which may cause the patient to become bedridden. Compression of the spinal cord may occur leading to paralysis. The impairment caused by TB can be devastating, resulting in severe permanent disability or even death. Proper, timely treatment can cure or mitigate the effects of tuberculosis of the spine. SHI can positively affect the physical, mental and social health of Nepali children and adults with spinal tuberculosis through education, assistance, and service in Nepal.
Thus, each country or nation has specific and unique needs related to spinal health care. Programs will vary accordingly depending on pathologies which are prevalent in each region. Education and training will focus on relevant and realistic goals and will strive to maximize use of locally available equipment and supplies. SHI will encourage self-reliance, independence, and economic autonomy by creating sustainable systems and infrastructure.