Touching Hands
Touching Hands is a nonprofit that provides free hand surgery to those in need around the world. The organization serves international and domestic communities, such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, the United States and Nepal. These interviews detail the intricacies of the organization Touching Hands and its international impact.

Dr. Scott Kozin, M.D., Founder of Touching Hands and Chief of Staff for Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia, PA.

Q: What was the process of becoming the founder of Touching Hands?

A: “In 2014, I was President of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, and I wanted to make outreach a pillar of the organization. At that point, there were only four pillars: education, research, organizational excellence, and patient care. During my presidential year, I had a singular goal to have one international outreach mission, which was based in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere. My presidential speech passionately pleaded with doctors and surgeons, stating, ‘We have been so lucky—just look at everything we as an organization have accomplished. Now is the right time to give back.’ The membership responded with their hearts, souls, expertise, and money. The mission to Haiti was a success and a turning point for Touching Hands, which has blossomed over the last six years. We currently have an outreach director who sits on the 13 member Hand Society council and provides a ‘seat and a voice at the table.’ We accomplished our goal and established outreach as a pillar of the organization.”

Q: Can you describe the outreach missions and how you organize the teams for the missions?

A: “Teams vary in size per each mission. There could be a handful of people to 40 people on any given mission. The team members include hand surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Many of the doctors and nurses who attend the missions cannot afford a week away from their practice, so we subsidize members with a $1,500 stipend that usually covers the cost of their travel and accommodations. We also try to include a community element to each trip, such as visiting an orphanage, building a school or constructing stoves.

“What really resonates with me about Touching Hands and participating on missions is the Carpe Diem principle. When you are in another country with a team of people whom you love and whom you love working with, there is a common goal. There is no competition; we are all just working towards the same objective. The principle goal is to help the people in need as much as we can. It’s a great thing to do—going on outreach missions—but there are more missions to do and more patients to care for across the globe. There’s always more to do.”

Dr. Rick Gardner, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Director for CURE Ethiopia

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: “Oh, why do I do what I do? Well, I think for me I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I’m helping children in a developing world setting and giving them care that we take for granted in the Western World. It gives me deep satisfaction and fills my life with purpose–helping these children.”

Q: Can you explain the relationship between Touching Hands and your practice in Ethiopia? What impact have you seen?

 A: “When I started working for Cure International in Ethiopia, I wanted to help children and train the local surgeons. Here in Ethiopia, there is a population of over 109 million people, and when I started working here seven years ago, there were just 60 orthopedic surgeons. Government healthcare resources were predominantly focused on trauma care with little resources or expertise to care for children with musculoskeletal disability. We care for children throughout Ethiopia, some having to travel for five days to come to our hospital.

[So,] when I heard of Touching Hands, I immediately got into contact with Dr. Scott Kozin. I had a patient called Rahel, born with a mirror hand [Ullnar Dimelia], a very rare congenital condition where the child has eight fingers. He had cared for many similar children and came to visit our hospital for the first time six years ago. He did incredible work, reconstructing her hand, restoring function and appearance. He and Dr. Duretti Fufa have made annual trips since then, caring for children with brachial plexus palsy, congenital hand pathology, Volkmann contractures, chronic burns and many others. They have revolutionized the breadth and quality of our upper limb service and we pass on these techniques to our Ethiopian residents and fellows. 

“Touching Hands transformed our level of care here in Ethiopia. Dr. Kozin and Dr. Fufa have taught us how to take care of these children and restore their lives. They have provided world-class care to these children and have enabled us to continue that level of care throughout the year. Dr. Kozin and Dr. Fufa continue to visit us each year. They have been a huge blessing to us.”

Dr. Fraser Leversedge, M.D., Chief Section fo Hand Surgery at the University of Colorado, Touching Hand’s Team Leader

Q: Can you describe the impact you have seen on your missions to Honduras?

A: “Since 2014, I have traveled twice a year to the Ruth Paz Hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with Touching Hands. In Honduras, our medical teams – made up of members from all over North America – are given the opportunity to witness the impact of helping those who were previously unable to work, care for their families, or contribute to society. By restoring hand function, we are impacting their lives tremendously—not only helping the patient, but influencing the lives of his or her family, coworkers, and community. We [also] do not just help for a week and then leave. We believe in the importance of ‘teaching them how to fish [rather than giving them a fish].’ [Through Touching Hands,] we teach the local surgeons and trainees how to perform procedures that they may not have been taught beforehand. We are passing along our educational expertise to allow them to increase the services they provide to their patients and communities.”

Q: Why do you think it is important for doctors to consider outreach as part of their practice?

A: “I think certainly in the United States or other countries who are fortunate enough to have well-educated, funded and safe medical practices, outreach allows doctors to reset and remember why we do what we do. It also gives healthcare providers [surgeons, anesthesia providers, nurses, and therapists] and all the volunteers a sense of appreciation for what we have.”

The website for Touching Hands provides multiple options for those interested in getting involved with the cause, including volunteering, information regarding outreach missions and donating directly towards Touching Hands’ efforts.

Kacie Frederick
Photo: Dr. Scott Kozin, M.D.