Global Surgery Fellowship brings Haitian doctor to Ottawa

Dr. Karry Felix and Dr. Yvonne Ying hold a certificate
By Zaina-Sophie Salibi
Project Officer, International and Global Health Office

Dr. Karry Felix, a general surgeon in Haiti, didn’t imagine his work on an American medical ship off the coast of Haiti in 2015 would lead to a global surgery fellowship in Ottawa in 2020 ― the year of global pandemic.  

“We met on a boat!” exclaimed Dr. Yvonne Ying, associate professor in the Department of Surgery and a paediatric plastic surgeon at CHEO, as she recalled their volunteer stint with Operation Smile, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing cleft lip and palate surgery to children in low-income countries.   

Shortly after they met, Dr. Ying, who holds a Master of Science in Global Health from King’s College London, began envisioning a fellowship program which would be flexible enough to meet the needs of global surgeons. This vision led her to create the Global Surgery Fellowship, a one-year program designed for both international and Canadian applicants. She knew she wanted to tailor the fellowship specifically to the needs of the fellow. 

“It gives us that range,” she said. “The academic portion is really related to understanding global surgery, but the clinical part can be tailored to what the needs are.” 

Back in Haiti, Dr. Felix a graduate of State University in Port-au-Prince, was working with Doctors without Borders while maintaining a private surgery practice. He also taught anatomy as an assistant professor at Quiskeya University in the Haitian capital. 

He completed a Master of Public Health in Israel in 2018, an experience that made him a better physician and gave him a broader vision of the medical system in Haiti, he said. 

“No matter what we do clinically, in Haiti, on an individual basis, it’s not enough―we need to change the system.”  

For example, Dr. Felix wishes the Haitian health-system could place a greater emphasis on preventative measures to combat both disease and accidents, citing the approximately 60% of burn victims in Haiti being children who were injured due to an accident within their household, as well as the high incidence of breast cancer amongst young women in Haiti.

 “Why are there so many young women in Haiti developing breast cancer?”, he said.  “Do we understand why is it so predominant? How could we prevent it?” 

He applied to the fellowship at uOttawa hoping to gain exposure to the Canadian medical system.  His hope became a reality when he began his fellowship in November 2019, a time when no-one was aware of the massive disruption to come. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Felix said he did manage to complete the majority of his clinical objectives and continue his research on minimally-invasive surgery methods which he would like to see adopted in his home country.  Although he was disappointed at not being able to travel widely in Canada, Dr. Felix said Ottawa was a great place to learn about how the health authorities managed the COVID-19 pandemic response. He noted the use of PPE equipment in the OR, patient screening and patient isolation practices. 

“That could be of benefit to the countries where I go. Taking the good side about everything, right?”

As he prepares to return home, he does hope to visit Canada again to explore the country further. He also hopes to keep his ties with the Faculty of Medicine in the years ahead, as he continues to collaborate with Dr. Ying on various research projects related to surgical care delivery in Haiti.

Thanks to Dr. Ying, CHEO and the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine―and the funding obtained from the Children’s Hospital Academic Medical Organization (CHAMO) for the 2019-2020 Fellowship― Dr. Felix can use his exposure to the Canadian medical system to further his global surgery knowledge and assist his patients in Haiti and around the world, on firm land … or even on a boat.   

Dr. Karry Felix in surgeon's garb

Dr. Karry Felix is researching minimally-invasive surgery methods that coud be adopted in Haiti.


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