A Look At The Lives Changed During Operation International’s First Neurosurgery Mission

April 23, 2024

More than 20 patients with complex neurological and spinal cord conditions have been given a new lease on life thanks to a new Operation International team.

Team Neuro, who made their inaugural mission to Ghana earlier this month, completed 28 life-changing surgeries at Holy Family Hospital in Techiman. The new team, led by Dr. Sarah Jernigan, had spent more than a year planning the mission, which marked a new medical specialty at the Operation International base and a level of care typically not available in the Eastern African region. The team ultimately plans to build up a neurosurgery center at the hospital.

“This was the first neurosurgery mission for Operation International,” said Dr. Jernigan, who formed the team in early 2023. “We were able to build on the long-standing relationship with OI, Holy Family Hospital and community neurosurgeons to improve access to neurosurgical care as well as provide longer term follow up through this partnership.”

The collaboration included Dr. Frank Nyketiah-Boakye, a Ghanan neurosurgeon based in Kumasi, who performed many endoscopy procedures along with his Ghanan neurosurgery fellow, Dr. Christian Coompson, and his attending, Dr. Frank Nyketiah-Boakye.

As to be expected, the cases seen by the neuro team included complex disorders and defects that, if left untreated, could have dire consequences for the patients living with them. The surgeries performed by the Operation International team, along with the Ghanan doctors, both transformed the quality of life for patients, and in some cases, saved their lives.

Here’s a look at a few of the life-changing surgeries:


One of Team Neuro’s youngest patients was a 1 year old boy who had untreated hydrocephalus, or a build up of fluids inside the brain. The condition caused the boy’s head to continue to grow as an infant and, when left untreated, can cause seizures, vomiting, problems with muscle tone, and other symptoms.

Team Neuro was able to curb these effects by placing a shunt that will help divert the fluid through a valve in the boy’s abdomen so his body can absorb it.

“This will help decrease his head size and help his family care for him,” Dr. Jernigan said.

The young boy will have ongoing follow up care with the local neurosurgery team as well as CARE International, which is helping kids with hydrocephalus around the world.


Two of Team Neuro’s successful surgeries were to repair what is known as encephalocele, a rare type of birth defect of the neural tube that causes a gap in the skull. Without repair, encephalocele can cause vision issues, delayed growth, developmental delays, seizures, and even fetal deaths.

In one case, Team Neuro repaired a young baby who had an occipital encephalocele, meaning the defect occurred at the back of the baby’s head and caused a sac-like bulge with brain tissue and spinal fluid.

In a second case, the team was able to fix a nasal encephalocele on an 8 year old boy. This surgery was particularly successful in that the team was able to use the boy’s own tissue and bone to repair the dural and bony defects.

“He has some expected swelling, but got a good cosmetic and therapeutic effect,” Dr. Rebecca DeCarlo said.


Another young patient seen by Team Neuro had a case of severe spina bifida known as myelomeningocele. With this condition, the spinal cord’s protective covering and the spinal nerves protrude at birth, forming a sac on the baby’s back. The exposed nervous system may become infected, so prompt surgery is needed after birth.

The team was successfully able to repair the birth defects of the spine and spinal membranes, providing a new quality of life for the young patient.

Thank You!

The ability to offer this new level of specialty care to patients who otherwise would go untreated is all thanks to the continued generosity of Operation International’s supporters. The inaugural mission marks just the beginning for the neuro team’s impact in Ghana.

“We look forward to continuing this relationship in future years,” Dr. Jernigan said.