Andrew James Lodge MD

The Impact and Triumphs of International Medical Missions

In the early 1980s, then First Lady Nancy Reagan accompanied her husband on his presidential visit to South Korea. Prior to their trip, the White House received a letter pleading assistance for the many children needing heart surgery at a medical facility in Seoul. Moved, the First Lady answered their call.

Nancy Reagan decided to bring back two gravely ill children, orchestrating events that led to them receiving life saving open-heart surgery. In turn, she inspired philanthropist Salah Hassanein, and his friends Joseph Sinay and Morton Sunshine to launch Children’s Lifeline, an organization dedicated to giving children sustainable medical aid.

Children’s Lifeline: To Save and Train

Andrew Lodge reports that Children’s Lifeline initially focused on pediatric cardiac problems, but they have since expanded to other disciplines, including: cranio-facial, neurosurgery, and clinical problems such as waterborne diseases in the 40 years since its inception.

Throughout its operations, the organization has collaborated with Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, University of California San Diego Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, along with a multitude of well-known institutions in sharing medical expertise.

Around the United States, these teams coming from some of the best teaching hospitals and organizations volunteer their personal time to provide aid for the less fortunate all over the world. Since its inception, Children’s Lifeline has sponsored hundreds of trips to over 50 countries.

Aside from performing life saving surgery, the organization trains local doctors how to perform these procedures and guides nurses with post-op care, ensuring that the community continues to benefit long after the medical mission is over. There is a clear directive to save and train, providing countless numbers of children and their families hope for a healthy future.

Impacting Lives Through Medical Missions

Brett Halvorson–born Lee Kil Woo, one of the children Nancy Reagan has helped–talks about the impact of meeting her again in 2007. “Words can’t describe my feelings to see her again…If I were to put into words my feelings, it would be grateful and blessed,” said Halvorson in an interview with ABC News.

To pay forward the hope he received in his childhood, Halvorson is writing a book to raise awareness about the enormous need for children born with heart disease all around the world.

Andrew Lodge

Recent and Upcoming Missions

In Children’s Lifeline’s recent 2023 medical mission to Africa, Dr. Robert Hamilton reports that their team served approximately 2,500 individuals in Senegal and Guinea Bissau. During their stay, they treated children with acute problems like pneumonia and acute diarrhea, and screened adults for hypertension and diabetes.

“Our hope is to help the people of the world who are overlooked; those in need…in the same way that Christ cared for the people he met during his time among us.” Hamilton said in a heartfelt remark. “That is our goal and I am pleased to report that this [is] what happened this year in Western Africa. Thank you to Children’s Lifeline International for participating in this effort.”

The organization also has medical missions lined up for Mexico, Kenya, and Ghana in the coming years.

Andrew James Lodge MD

Hyco Lake is a Best Kept Secret

I lived in central North Carolina for almost 20 years before I discovered that Hyco Lake existed. The 3,750 acre lake is located in north-central North Carolina, close to the border with Virginia. It is about ten minutes from Roxboro. My wife and I purchased a home there over ten years ago. At that time, the inventory of homes on the market around the lake was plentiful. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, the number of homes for sale has plummeted as the real estate market has been booming. In addition, new construction on the lake seems to be ramping up as well. There is a tremendous amount of undeveloped shoreline and a tour around the lake reveals numerous homes being built or remodeled.

Despite this increase in interest in building and real estate around Hyco Lake, my experience has been that the vast majority of people that I meet don’t know anything about it, much like me 20-30 years ago. My primary residence is about an hour south of the lake. When my family has invited guests to visit us at Hyco, it has for most been not only their first trip there, but also the first time they’ve heard of it. Uniformly, however, once they come, they enjoy themselves and are eager to return.

The name Hyco is derived from a native American word for the turkey buzzards that can be seen patrolling the lake area. The land immediately surrounding Hyco Lake is owned by Duke Energy Progress. It was, in fact, the predecessor of this company that formed the lake to serve as a cooling reservoir for its power plant. The current company still operates an active power plant on the shore of the lake today. The plant burns coal to produce steam that then turns the turbines that produce electrical power. Over the years the plant has developed a system to recycle most of the by-products of the coal burning.

Hyco Lake has some features that I view as relatively unique to lakes in central North Carolina. Essentially all the homes on the lake have some waterfront property. There aren’t really any neighborhoods per se that extend back from the waterfront, but groups of homes tend to be clustered and accessed based on the coves around which they are built. Many are accessed by private roads. Hyco also tends to maintain its water level relatively well throughout the year, even during the hottest and driest part of the summer. This is a major plus for those interested in recreational water activities. Throughout the season one can observe people wakeboarding, wake surfing, water skiing, tubing, and jet-skiing as well as just floating and swimming. The lake is enjoyed not only by homeowners but also by visitors by virtue of a park located towards the Caswell County side of the lake. The park offers a beach, public boat launch, and camping and picnic opportunities. The Person-Caswell Lake authority patrols both the park and lake to maintain safety. Because of its relative obscurity, boat traffic is generally not excessive, even during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day holiday weekends. Because the power plant discharges warm water used to cool its steam exhaust, the lake temperature remains warm enough to permit a long boating season and fishing throughout the year. Also, due to the power company’s ownership of the land surrounding the lake, much of the shoreline is not or cannot be built upon which prevents overdevelopment. There is only a single business on the lake – a small “marina” that comprises a convenience store, restaurant, and gas pumps. There are no permanent boat slips other than those on the homeowners’ docks.

My family and I have appreciated the relative peace and tranquility of our home on Hyco Lake for over 12 years. We use our home throughout the year. Since over half of the homes on the lake are not occupied year-round, the cooler months tend to be very quiet. During the warm weather months, we have hosted many friends and family members there. All have enjoyed this somewhat hidden gem. The fact that the lake is relatively unknown has actually increased our appreciation of our getaway. We hope to continue to enjoy it for years to come.

Andrew James Lodge MD

There Goes my Hero – Dave Grohl

When Andrew Lodge first heard of Dave Grohl, it was related to his creation of a new band, the Foo Fighters, after Kurt Cobain’s death and the end of the band Nirvana. Grohl had been the drummer for Nirvana. What Andrew understood from what he had heard was that Dave Grohl formed his new band and essentially put together the first album single-handedly, playing all of the instruments and doing the vocals himself. Andrew James Lodge MD found this not only amazing, but it fascinated him that one person could have enough talent to pull off such a feat. So, when Andrew was browsing through a bookstore late in 2021 and came across The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music which is Dave Grohl’s autobiography- he had to read it. The book is a collection of stories from Dave’s collected experiences from childhood to the present and the title, in Andrew Lodge’s opinion, could just as well have been Tales of My Life, which is Music. It was a great read. The following are a few of my reflections on the book.

Andrew James Lodge MD prefaces this by stating that the Foo Fighters are one of his current favorite bands. While he has never seen them live, he has seen many videos of their live performances. The energy they put into their performances is inspiring and makes it clear that Grohl and his bandmates clearly love what they do. Dave Grohl grew up in Northern Virginia. He describes himself as somewhat of a non-conformist. From a very young age, he had a strong interest in music. He taught himself how to play the drums by listening to punk and rock albums and imitating the drummers he heard. This self-starting characteristic is one of the musician’s defining attributes. What also comes through loud and clear in the book is the influence of Grohl’s mother Virginia. His father left the family early in his life, and Grohl was essentially raised by Virginia who was a public-school teacher. She appears to have done an incredible job finding the balance between instilling strong values and giving him the latitude to explore his interests and passions and find his own path in life.

Throughout The Storyteller, Andrew Lodge was continually impressed with the importance of family in Grohl’s life. It was a cousin that introduced him to the world of punk rock, which in turn led to his amazing self-taught skills. He spent his high school years playing drums with several local bands until he got an amazing break – an audition with his favorite hometown band Scream. This was a turning point where Grohl was faced with a decision between pursuing a college education or a life as a musician. On top of this, he had to get this decision past his mother who was a teacher. Her faith in him, her allowing him the freedom to choose, and his commitment to music may have seemed relatively insignificant at the time, but they were pivotal in the development of an amazing rock talent that would have an impact over the next 30-40 years. Grohl ended up becoming the drummer for Scream, and his career was launched.

His role in Scream led to a call from the band Nirvana to fill their frequently vacated drummer position. Nirvana, as a huge driver behind the alternative and grunge rock scenes was a huge step up, and another remarkable steppingstone in Dave Grohl’s musical journey. He solidified the drummer role in Nirvana beginning in 1990 and contributed greatly to the success of a hugely popular band. Unfortunately, that ended abruptly with the death of Cobain in 1994 leaving the rest of the band to wonder what was next. Grohl was only 25 at the time and drifted for a while considering his next move. This period was marked by another critical decision – turning down the opportunity to be the drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, another legendary band. Even during his time with Nirvana, Grohl had been working on recording his own music. The next decision, to take these recordings to the next level, led to the launch of the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl actually did write and record the songs for the Foo Fighters eponymous first album by himself, doing the vocals and playing all the instruments. To this day, some of those songs are still among the Foo’s most popular. He then formed a band to support the album and the rest is history. What an accomplishment for a 25-year-old.

The rest of The Storyteller documents only some of what Andrew James Lodge MD thinks must be many more of the incredible stories of this wonderful musician. From encounters with fellow musicians such as Neil Young, Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Paul McCartney, to playing a gig at the White House, to his other musical explorations with and without the rest of the Foo Fighters, Grohl talks about each with a down-to-earth tone that is fun and refreshing. What sticks out to me is how intertwined with all these stories his life with his mother, wife, and children are. In addition, despite his fame and prosperity, it’s clear that Grohl both recognizes and is grateful for his good fortune. And he tries to give back to others he encounters in life.

Andrew Lodge would like close this post with one other bit of information that he has come across as a fan of Dave Grohl. A couple of years ago, he was made aware of a 10-year-old drumming prodigy from England who had been posting her covers of songs on social media and had challenged him to a drum-off. This ultimately led to a video of said drum-off between Grohl and the young girl that went viral, and eventually to the girl playing on-stage with the Foo Fighters. If one reads about and watches the videos of this story unfolding, it becomes clear that not only does Grohl take great joy in what he does but derives joy from interacting with others that share his passion, and in turn shares his with them. All of this is reflected in The Storyteller. Whether you’re a Foo Fighters fan or not, I highly recommend it as a great read.

Andrew James Lodge MD

Further thoughts on Man’s Search for Meaning

Andrew James Lodge MD wrote an earlier blog post about my initial impressions of Man’s Search for Meaning, a book written by Victor Frankl who was a psychiatrist and survivor of several concentration camps during World War II. He found the book to be impactful for several reasons, not the least of which was that Frankl seemed to be a thinker ahead of his time. This post contains some of the collected wisdom from the book and Andrew Lodge’s thoughts on Frankl’s observations.

Much of Man’s Search for Meaning centers on the trials and suffering of the Nazi concentration camp prisoners and their responses to it. Frankl’s assertion related to this was that if there was in fact a meaning to be found in life, then suffering itself must have a meaning because in life, suffering is unavoidable. Every human being will encounter some type of suffering during his or her life, be it the loss of a job or a loved one, severe illness, a devastating accident, or some other misery. One of the central tenets of his book is that everything can be taken from a man (or woman) except for one thing. That one thing is the choice of how one responds to one’s circumstances. This is summed up in the following excerpt from the book: “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation, he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.” Frankl states that this freedom of choice is always present, but in no way implies that the choice is necessarily easy. He himself observed far more prisoners give in to the suffering than to overcome it. It is, however, those that overcome that inspire us.

So how does one overcome the difficulties he or she faces to find meaning? Frankl quotes the philosopher Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”. He points out that of all beings, humans are distinguished by their ability to look into the future. Therefore, in order to overcome adversity, we must be able to look into the future to find meaning in something desirable that we have not yet achieved, in a relationship with another person, or even in the manner in which we endure the hardship itself. Why do so many struggle with this? Frankl introduces the concept of the existential vacuum, a sort of ennui that is enabled to a large extent by the increasing conveniences of society. This is another concept which demonstrates what prescient thinker Frankl was. Sixty years ago, he wrote “Automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.” Hence the worsening of the existential vacuum. Imagine what poor Dr. Frankl would think of automation if he were alive in 2022!

According to Andrew Lodge, Man’s Search for Meaning tell us that human beings must rise above their fears and suffering to actualize themselves, to reach their full potential. Man is self-determining. What one becomes depends upon decisions, not conditions. Frankl says that meaning and happiness cannot simply be pursued, they must ensue from one’s decisions and actions. In other words, happiness and meaning do not simply happen, but rather result from choices that one makes. The reader is left with a final reflection which, again, was written by someone from a prior generation, and that is that “for the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best”. For the relatively entitled society of the 2020’s, Andrew Lodge believes this is food for thought indeed.

Andrew James Lodge MD

A Review of a Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

This post relates to Andrew James Lodge MD and his reactions to a book he recently read – Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. The book was originally written in 1959 but has been updated several times since then. It is divided into two parts; the first of the two is the first-hand account of Frankl’s experience as a concentration camp prisoner. Frankl was a psychiatrist. He spent time in several Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz. He does not spend a lot of time detailing the many and varied atrocities that occurred in the camps but does describe his observations on the conditions as they relate to the effect on the human psyche. As a psychiatrist, Frankl advocated for a type of therapy called logotherapy, which Andrew James Lodge MD gathers was new at that time. Logotherapy is based on the belief that identifying the meaning in life is a critical, if not the most important, human drive. The second part of the book details some of Frankl’s thoughts on and theories behind this novel therapeutic concept.

This book made an impact on Andrew James Lodge for a number of reasons. First, it was a somber reminder of the evil of which man is capable. Descriptions of the conditions in the concentration camps and the pain and suffering to which the prisoners were subjected made it necessary for Lodge to contemplate the terrible things that human beings can do to each other. Yet, when Andrew Lodge tried to think of it from the perspective of a Nazi leader, he was compelled to consider the fact that at least some of them likely thought they were doing the right thing. In hindsight, their actions were extremely heinous, but Frankl does describe kind actions from some of the SS guards who took pity on the prisoners, indicating that not everyone in a seemingly homogeneous group thinks and acts the same way.

Second, Lodge was forced to remember that it has been only 80 years or so since these events took place – not a particularly long time in the grand scale of history. Additionally, despite the relatively universal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ideas behind them, there are parts of the world where certain groups of people are still being treated similarly. And, in Lodge’s own country, state and city, news about racist acts or unfair treatment of individuals or groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation can be seen in headlines every day. In his book, Frankl does not focus on how to correct these large-scale systemic injustices, but rather how the individual can respond to his or her own situation. In Andrew Lodge’s mind, these lessons can help us all in our approach to life on a daily basis.

Finally, throughout Man’s Search for Meaning there is an underlying message of human strengths and the ability of the human spirit to overcome even the most dreadful conditions. Although Frankl acknowledges that many of the concentration camp prisoners succumbed to hopelessness and despair, often even noting that it was easy to tell when a fellow prisoner had given up, that even the few that did not are evidence that humans can make decisions that can positively impact their circumstances.

One other thing that struck Lodge about Frankl’s book was the apparent contrast between today’s trend of mindfulness teaching, which focuses on being grounded in the present, and the premise of logotherapy, which is that something to look forward to – some meaning, is a critical part of personal well-being. Andrew James Lodge MD can reconcile these two things in the following way: Frankl points out that the search for meaning does not have to be a cosmic all-consuming single meaning of life but can focus on finding meaning in the present. This is reflected in the following quote: “What matters therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but the specific meaning of a person’s life at any given moment”. In this way, the “meaning of life” can be different for every individual, and even for each individual instant, since it is a dynamic, rather than a static, concept, and therefore logotherapy is not inconsistent with the practice of mindfulness.

These are only some of Lodge’s initial thoughts on this amazing book. There are many pearls of wisdom and impactful messages throughout the text. Andrew Lodge may share and reflect on some of those in a future post.

Andrew James Lodge MD

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) Hosts 58th Annual Meeting

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) recently hosted its 58th Annual Meeting. This was planned as an in-person meeting in Miami, FL, anticipating improvements in the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to concerns about the relatively new COVID-19 omicron variant, the conference was shifted to a completely virtual format just weeks before the scheduled start date. STS President Sean Grondin, the STS staff and the Program Committee should be commended for making this pivot virtually (no pun intended) seamlessly and providing an outstanding conference experience for all attendees.

Andrew James Lodge MD mentions that there were many notable events during the conference including Dr. Grondin’s Presidential address and lectures during the plenary sessions from notable speakers Drs. Henri R. Ford, Amy C. Edmondson, and Cameron D. Wright. Another notable session that Dr. Lodge attended personally and think deserves further mention occurred during the breakout sessions under the dual headings of Congenital and Career Development. This session, entitled “Career Progression – Personal Insights Along the Journey” was somewhat unusual for this type of a national conference. It was moderated by Dr. Jennifer Nelson from Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, FL and Dr. Adil Hussain from the University of Utah School of Medicine/Primary Children’s Hospital. It was entirely devoted not to painstakingly acquired data, but to the stories, observations, and advice of several surgeons at different stages of their careers. The purpose of the session was to provide a personal look at, and discussion of, some the challenges that thoracic surgeons (particularly congenital heart surgeons) face during the course of their careers.

The first talk was given by Dr. Reilly Hobbs, also of the University of Utah School of Medicine/Primary Children’s Hospital. This talk focused on concluding the long training period required to become a congenital heart surgeon and the challenges of finding a first job. Hobbs highlighted the issues involved in obtaining a job in a highly scrutinized and high pressure field in which job opportunities may be few and far between. The second talk was given by Dr. Elizabeth Stephens, a junior faculty member at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Stephens candidly discussed the challenges presented to a congenital heart surgeon early in her career including making critical decisions, performing high-stress and high-risk operations, gaining the trust and confidence of one’s colleagues, and learning on the job. According to Dr. Lodge, both of these young surgeons stressed the importance of building a network of support and mentorship from experienced individuals, and not trying to simply find their own way.

The next talk in the session was given by Dr. Stephanie Fuller, a mid-career surgeon who has spent her entire career at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This lecture addressed the topic of considering other job opportunities and was cleverly titled “Opportunities vs. Equity – Should I stay or should I go?”. In this talk, Fuller discussed the pros and cons of remaining at a single institution for an extended period of time or one’s entire career versus moving on to one or more new opportunities. Following this, Dr. Chris Calderone from the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX presented his thoughts on ascending to the position of Chief of a Division or Department based on his experience as a chief at two different institutions. The session was concluded with a lecture by Dr. Ross Ungerleider who is now retired from the active practice of surgery. Ungerleider’s career was marked by landmark contributions to research and the practice of congenital heart surgery, leadership in national organizations and several institutions, and a transition to a non-surgical focus. His talk focused on some of the many human aspects of practicing and aging as a heart surgeon, as well as thoughts about developing and moving on to other interests. Notably, Dr. Ungerleider, along with his wife Jamie who is a Ph.D. psychologist, has continued to work actively, now focusing on team and relationship building for professionals.

Each of these lectures was thoughtful and personal. In sum, they provided valuable information, insights, and food for thought for surgeons at any point along the career pathway. The STS is to be congratulated for including such sessions in its meeting curriculum.