UBC GO Spotlight – Timothy Kostamo

By Tarini Boparai & Maneeta Janjua

Our UBC Global Orthopaedics (UBC GO) Spotlight series features in-depth conversations with a UBC Department of Orthopaedics member about their involvement in global orthopaedic initiatives. 

In our next spotlight, we meet UBC Department of Orthopaedics Clinical Assistant Professor and orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Timothy Kostamo. 

What inspired your interest in global health/surgery/orthopaedics?

My parents did quite a bit of humanitarian work while I was growing up. I was born in Canada, but my parents are originally from Finland, and I grew up in Germany. My upbringings can be described as having an international childhood which piqued my interest in international work while I was in medical school. I also volunteered in Africa for 2 months before medical school due to my interest in international work.  

What did you do?

After starting my medical practice, I began exploring various projects and opportunities. In 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake, which led me to discover the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT) group—a disaster response organization that has been involved in every major disaster over the past 15 years. While most of their missions don’t involve surgical procedures, the high number of orthopaedic injuries in the aftermath of the earthquake prompted them to seek an orthopaedic surgeon. Consequently, I was deployed to Haiti as part of their team. Although I remain on their roster, I haven’t been deployed since then due to the unpredictable nature of disaster response.

In order to engage in more regular activities, I sought out involvement with the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad (CAMTA) group based in Edmonton. CAMTA collaborates with a local hospital in Ecuador, identifying patients in need of specific surgeries, such as complex hip reconstructions for adults or clubfoot and pelvic surgeries for children. A team comprising surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, and anesthetists travels to Ecuador, conducting a clinic day to assess patients and perform necessary surgeries. Additionally, they provide teaching and training opportunities. I have been participating in this project and visiting Ecuador for the past six years.

Where did you find the funding?

Surgeons are usually required to raise money (about $3200) to cover their own flight and costs. I usually email family and friends who also are keen to help out knowing the impact of this mission.  

One thing we’re probing and looking into is sustainability. Do you think your projects were able to achieve sustainability?

To ensure ongoing care for patients, even when foreign surgeons are not present, we prioritize maintaining partnerships and connections with local orthopaedic surgeons. This allows for immediate attention to any issues that may arise between our trips. Additionally, we actively engage in training programs for local surgeons, residents, and physiotherapists. Empowering the local community and the hospital we collaborate with is of utmost importance to us, and we have fostered a strong and enduring relationship with the hospital over the years.

Looking back, what do you think were the key insights and main barriers that you faced?

Some of the barriers include scheduling and logistics. The team’s trips need to be planned 6 months in advance so that call schedules can be planned around the trip. In addition to that, taking extended periods of time away from my family have proved to be challenging for my spouse as we have 4 children and very full lives. 

Are you working on any projects right now? What are your future plans/implications?

My intention is to continue my annual trips to Ecuador with CAMTA, supporting their efforts and providing necessary medical assistance. Furthermore, if the CMAT group contacts me to participate in a major disaster response, I am fully committed to dropping everything and offering my immediate assistance without hesitation.

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