Tampa Bay Spine Surgeons Travel to the Dominican Republic to Offer Hope to Patients with Debilitating Spine Conditions

1 Mar 2019 Spine News

Butterfly Foundation Spinal Mission Trip

The Butterfly Foundation’s spinal deformity mission trip changes the lives of 23 young patients as volunteers and generous donors dedicate their time not only provide surgical treatment for patients, but also to train local physicians in surgical procedures that can continue to serve the people of the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Samuel Joseph and Dr. Andrew Moulton, along with a dedicated team of volunteers traveled to the Dominican Republic over Valentine’s week to save the lives of children and young adults with severe spinal deformities.


The volunteers had a grueling schedule which included 4 to 5 surgeries daily for the week, along with patient screenings and lectures to orthopedic residents. The team performed 23 scoliosis and kyphosis cases and stated he was seeing one of the most severe cases they had ever come across. Dr. Samuel Joseph, founder of Joseph Spine of Tampa and neurosurgeon Dr. Salvatore Zavarella from New York performed the most severe case.  The patient was suffering extreme kyphosis. This patient was actually a somewhat rare instance of the team taking on an adult case, 36 year old female that said to her husband less than 12 hours post op when looking in the mirror sitting up, “I feel like a super model”.

“We have seen this hundreds of times before, she is now the butterfly escaping the bound up cocoon and with thrive,” Dr. Moulton.

Before and after surgery extreme case of kyphosis. Surgery performed by Dr. Samuel Joseph, founder of Joseph Spine of Tampa and neurosurgeon Dr. Salvatore Zavarella from New York.

Although the days were long the team was energized by the work they were doing and the gratitude of their young patients. 

“It felt amazing to have a direct effect on a child’s life and not only improve their appearance but improve their quality of life and life expectancy,” stated Dr. Joseph.  “Thinking about how many people this child will then affect in their life makes you really take a step back and be humbled by what we as a team are so fortunate and blessed to be able to do.”

Many of these young patients travel great distances to receive surgery. Most of the patients have been long suffering from adolescent or congenital scoliosis or in need of kyphosis correction. These young patients are heroes themselves, braving the travel and unfamiliarity with their surgeons. The surgeons and other volunteers take extra time with these children to help them cope with the upcoming days.

“Meeting strangers and allowing them to perform dangerous and painful surgery was a great leap of faith,” Dr. Moulton.

Many of these cases were quite severe. Dr. Joseph, founder of Joseph Spine in Tampa, performed an eight hour surgery, along with neurosurgeon Dr. Salvatore Zavarella from New York. The patient was somewhat of a rare instance of an adult with a severe kyphosis case. The patient had lived with this severe deformity since childhood and it had devastating social consequences for her throughout her life.  She stood up the day after surgery holding Dr. Joseph and looked straight forward without craning her pelvis and neck essentially for the first time in her life.

The Butterfly Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the sharing of spine surgery technology, expertise and care to patients and to teaching spinal deformity surgery in developing countries. Local physicians work alongside establish deformity corrective surgeons such as Dr. Joseph and Dr. Moulton as they perform live-saving surgeries, while promoting the advancement of spine deformity treatment technology by training local surgeons.

The Butterfly Foundation was founded by Dr. Moulton in 2003. He was inspired to start the foundation as he realized the mission trips could only provide help to a small percentage of the population. In order to make a real difference for the population it was necessary to train local surgeons. 

“Teach a man to fish and he feeds his community for a lifetime is our motto,” states Dr. Moulton.

Dr. Moulton explains how the name “Butterfly Foundation” was chosen. 

“Because of society’s attitudes toward their deformity, we saw how these kids would come in, bundled up, socially withdrawn, embarrassed, even outcast. Once they have their surgeries and heal, they stand up straight, they run, and they jump and play. There’s such a profound joy to see them move so freely, without pain. Their transformation reminded us of how a butterfly is born and the name stuck.”

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