Operation Hope Mission to Nigeria

In the summer of 2017, Dr. John W. Cory and his wife Kelly, an experienced 20-year Army trauma nurse, traveled to Nigeria with Living Hope Christian Charities: Operation Hope, a charity founded by the Acho brothers, Sam and Emmanuel. Sam Acho is a former Arizona Cardinals and now starting linebacker for the Chicago Bears. His brother, Emmanuel Acho, was a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns before retiring and finding his passion as an analyst for ESPN.

Dr. Cory was the on-field team doctor for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2013-2014 season when Sam acquired a season-ending foot injury. While being placed on the injured reserve, Dr. Cory was his foot doctor giving him and Sam the opportunity to connect and discuss Operation Hope and create a plan for Dr. Cory to travel and provide medical care to the surrounding villages who desperately needed help. We met Dr. Cory at his orthopedic and physical therapy office where we were able to sit down with him regarding his emotionally powerful experience in Nigeria.

What are the conditions like in the villages you visited?

“The villages are essentially shacks with the occasional plantation home.  Classism and subsistence poverty were evident throughout the village, as most homes have no running water or electricity.”

What was the atmosphere like? Were the children excited to interact with you? Or was there a sense of hesitancy displayed?

“The atmosphere was a combination of excitement and desperation.  The children were the purest highlight of the trip. Young children needing medical treatment were excited, hopeful, and displayed happiness when they were able to take pictures or play a pick-up game of soccer.”

What are the social and political issues that plague Nigeria surrounding the lack of medical care? Was this a trip that helped bring light to the issue?

“This trip and conversations with other doctors who have been on overseas missions have been instrumental in my perspectives on the impediments to basic care in third world countries.  Societal issues included lack of education, lack of living wage jobs, lack of local and governmental support which leads to the lack of anyone taking responsibility. Furthermore, the political history of Nigeria becoming a sovereign nation a mere 4 decades ago, following the imperial policies from the internal civil war has resulted in a North vs South religious disconnect.   Add to this near-endemic grift within local and federal government agencies and the cabinet members and efforts to restore basic necessities and a way of living are impossible without payoffs, bribes and military/paramilitary force to enforce.”

Did you form a bond with any of the patients you treated? If so, how did it affect the way you view your approach to medicine?

“Several patients in the village made a lifelong lasting impression.  A man with an untreated femoral nonunion for over seven years was the first-ever orthopedic surgery patient in this area of Nigeria.  However, two young girls who displayed resilience and strength despite their circumstances, continue to remind me of the blessings I’ve been afforded in my life.  A 12-year-old soccer player whose name is Precious, was the single proudest person I’ve had the privilege of meeting. The main priority that she expressed was that she simply wanted to be able to play soccer pain-free.

ChiChi was a poor, yet proud, sickly young girl, one of the worst cases that I’ve seen since residency. Small for her tender age at 12, but so incredibly resilient. Suffering from a completely untreated and fulminant case of osteomyelitis, her spirit was displayed as her body responded to basic surgery and IV antibiotics.  No matter how she felt, that beautiful smile never left her face. These children, as well as the children who wished only to have someone hold them, laugh with them, have and will forever remind me to ‘remember why’ I’ve put so much effort into my endless study of medicine and the countless hours I spend treating my patients.  I will always try to find a way to treat those who need and wish to get well.”

How did you hear about this trip? Would you go to Nigeria again?

“I was drawn to this mission after meeting Sam Acho while he played for the Arizona Cardinals.  While he was injured and under treatment, we became very close and I made a promise to go as soon as his medical mission had a hospital built in Isukwato, Abia State.

After speaking with Sam, I informed him that I would go and perform the first orthopedic surgery in that area.  Operation Hope in 2017 accomplished both. I am undecided for another trip. There is great unrest within Nigeria and verging on another civil war, and this provides fodder to increase the hold over the impoverished.  I would be most interested in going to the Universities with Orthopedic Medicine professionals and teaching the Nigerian doctors to treat musculoskeletal issues.”

What was the most memorable part of this trip? Is there a specific moment of reflection on this trip that changed your life? If so, could you please share it with us?

“Spending time with the locals, our guards, and the children is a memory I cannot forget.  Outfitting the boys and girls high school soccer teams with 2 dozen new balls and over 40 Arizona United Professional soccer kits and shoes sent over from the RSL Academy boys as well as Del Sol, Sereno and Phoenix Rising Youth Football Club (formerly Scottsdale Blackhawk) team players was my life’s joy paid forward.  Combine this with treating patients, most represented by Precious and ChiChi gave me a connection between my two life passions- Soccer and Medicine.”