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Shriners Hospitals plans to expand cooperation in Cyprus to include education

For 35 years, doctors from Shriners Hospitals for Children have been visiting Cyprus and examining children with serious orthopaedic problems. This year, doctors expressed their desire to see this relationship expanding in the field of education.

At the end of a week-long visit to the island, Dr David Drvaric, chief of staff and chief of team of doctors, said the Shriners` Hospital for Children in Springfield Massachusetts has been coming to examine and take care of children with orthopaedic problems.

The Shriners visits are being sponsored by the George and Thelma Paraskevaides Foundation Nicosia since 1995.

Over the years many children have been evaluated and have been travelling to Springfield for treatment, whether for surgery or rehabilitation to improve their quality of life, said Drvaric who himself has been coming to Cyprus for 23 years.

“It has meant a great deal to the staff at our hospital and to the foundation as well as to all the Shriners throughout North America as well as internationally,” he said.

Executive Director of the George and Thelma Paraskevaides Foundation praised the cooperation with the US hospital.

Lee Kirk, administrator of the hospital for Children in Springfield, said “what we are specifically doing is to enhance this very important relationship in making care for children accessible that is not readily accessible here”.

He lauded the Nicosia General Hospital for providing the space where they hold the week-long clinic, provide the nursing, interpreters and access to the medical imaging, MRI and the technical connections for the electronic medical records to communicate with the US.

“We have made good contacts with the leadership of the Nicosia General hospital, with the department of Orthopaedics and we are establishing a list of things that we can do to enhance this relationship”, he said.

The US doctors also utilise telemedicine where they can keep up with their patients` progress on a quarterly basis. An average of 40-50 children per year go to Springfield.

“It is a privilege for us to have this relationship and we look forward to continuing in the future and work each year to enhance it,” he said. Shriners treats newborns to children up to 18 years old.

Kirk also said they are working to establish relationship and affiliations with the three medical schools in Cyprus. This past year they have established affiliation with St. George`s Medical School from the University of Nicosia.

The American doctors also met with representatives from the European University Medical School and through the Nicosia General Hospital, Kirk said, “we intend to establish relationships with the University of Cyprus Medical School”.

Steve Behe, chairman of the Board of the hospital, said he was “proud to be a Shriner and proud of what our hospital has done over the past 35 years. We are proud to be able to help support the hospitals that our doctors work so hard for to provide care for all the children”.

“We have an endowment that allows us to provide care to children, whether children`s families are able to pay for care or not, we provide the care, something unique in the medical world. Our endowment allows us to do that, we operate on an $800 million budget each year and about 70 per cent of that comes from philanthropy itself”.

Dr. Ken Guidera, Chief medical officer for Shriners at the headquarters in Florida, said they work with their 22 hospitals around North America. “We have a very large programme, we have many dedicated people”, he said, adding he comes to Cyprus as a practicing surgeon and chief medical officer. Part of my job is to make sure there is continued support at the headquarters level so we shall continue and do whatever we can do make this a very valuable endeavour.

Guidera said they wanted to see their services expanded “so we can start seeing burn patients because we have those specialists, cleft lip and palate, spinal cord injury staff, the opportunities are limitless”. We are here not only to help the children but work with the other hospitals and medical schools, he said, adding that they visited two schools and had students come to the clinic.

Asked what kind of problems they see in Cyprus, he said orthopaedic problems, problems with bones, joints and muscles, conditions such clubfoot, scoliosis, developmental displaced hip, deformities of legs and other conditions that affect growth and shape of children as they develop, neurological, including cerebral palsy.”

Many of the children though, said Guidera, have excellent care here and “we serve as a second opinion.”.

As far as the costs, he explained that “they take care of children regardless of the family`s ability to pay. And those children that come from here are primarily taken care of through Shriners and the endowment that we have. No direct out of pocket expenses for the family for the medical care”.

Paraskevaides said that when the family cannot afford tickets and accommodation, the Foundation takes care of that. Many of the families can do that, and there are special arrangements for accommodation which are very affordable, he noted.

“We make sure every child will have the opportunity to travel to the US,” he said.

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