SARASOTA – Abdul Mussa, 46, is incredibly lucky to be alive. He survived an automobile accident in rural Mozambique that snapped his neck forward, leaving his head permanently facing downward. But in early October, a Sarasota spine specialist on a medical mission to Africa was able to rebuild Mussa’s spine and restore his normal posture.

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“Because of his severe injury, called an internal decapitation, Abdul had to walk with his chin on his chest, staring at the ground, and was unable to raise his arms,” said Philip A. Meinhardt, M.D., a board-certified fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon at Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart – Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Sarasota. “In fact, it’s amazing he survived such a traumatic accident, which can sever the spinal cord, resulting in death or permanent paralysis.”

Working with a volunteer team of U.S. physicians, nurses, and spinal equipment specialists at the Hospital Central de Maputo in Mozambique’s capital, Dr. Meinhardt treated Mussa and another eight patients who had been invited by a group of local neurosurgeons.

“I saw Abdul the first Sunday we arrived and looked at the diagnostic images from the hospital’s one working fluoroscopy machine,” he said. After immobilizing the patient’s neck, Dr. Meinhardt was able to insert a plate in the base of the skull, using donated spinal pins, screws, and rods to reposition his head in an upright position.

Throughout the complex spinal procedure, the medical team provided specialized anesthesia to be sure his nerve pathways remained intact. “When Abdul awoke, he was able to move his arms and legs, and the next day, his shoulders were able to function as well,” said Dr. Meinhardt. “Abdul steadily improved throughout the week of our visit, and has continued to do well, according to his primary care team in Mozambique.”

Dr. Meinhardt treated other patients with serious spinal injuries, including a Mozambique physician with a fractured vertebra in the neck who rode 800 kilometers on rural roads to reach Maputo. Three days after Dr. Meinhardt’s treatment, the physician was walking, talking, and eating without pain.

“Mozambique is one of the poorest and most medically underserved countries in the world,” said Dr. Meinhardt, who spent much of his time training the neurosurgeons in Maputo. “They are very dedicated to their patients, but lack the hands-on skills, as well as the modern tools needed for these types of surgeries,” he added.

The medical trip was organized by the Christian Missions Institute, founded in 2017 by Glenn E. Harper, M.D., professor of neurosurgery at Texas A&M Medical School. Dr. Meinhardt and Dr. Harper collaborated on the trip, which was supported by four spinal surgery companies. “We are planning a return trip to Mozambique in April, to continue our volunteer work in surgical education and patient care,” said Dr. Meinhardt.

During the past decade, Dr. Meinhardt has taken part in several volunteer medical missions to Ethiopia, Haiti, and Iraq. In 2017, he traveled to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq providing care to patients, and training spine surgeons at Erbil Community Hospital.

“When I was a resident, I worked with an orthopedic surgeon who had done volunteer work in Ethiopia,” Dr. Meinhardt said. “Ever since then, I’ve been active in medical missions. Along with the sense of fulfillment, these trips have broadened my medical experience, treating conditions like tuberculosis infections of the spine that we don’t see in the United States.”

Prior to joining the Sarasota practice, Dr. Meinhardt spent eight years as an orthopedic surgeon at Jewett Orthopedic Clinic in Winter Park. While in Orlando, he was an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, where he received the “Excellence in Teaching Award” in 2014 and 2015.

Dr. Meinhardt is a co-author of “Cervical Spine: Plain Radiology,” a 2012 article in the journal Cervical Spine. He also presented a poster on “Complications in Unfused Scoliosis Surgery” at the 2008 International Meeting on Advanced Spine Techniques.

Dr. Meinhardt’s commitment to providing personalized patient care led him to join Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart last January. “Everyone in our practice is dedicated to listening to our patients and family members, understanding their concerns, and explaining their treatment options,” he said.

As a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Meinhardt treats degenerative conditions in the cervical (upper), thoracic, and lumbar (lower) spine. His practice ranges from minimally invasive procedures to larger, more complex surgeries, including the treatment of traumatic injuries.

Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart – Orthopedics and Sports Medicine offers state-of-the-art treatment options, decades of expertise, and personalized orthopedic and sports medicine care. For more information, visit sforzodillingham.com