Jim Kilway ’90

Surgeon Serves Needy Patients

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Each year, for the past decade, Jim Kilway ’90 has taken a week away from his work as a general surgeon in Vancouver, Washington, traveled to the Philippines, and performed life-changing surgeries for patients who can’t afford to pay for them.

The annual trips, during which he might perform up to approximately 30 procedures, have become a deeply meaningful way to give back.

“I’m able to make a difference,” Kilways says. “It’s extremely rewarding to know that I’ve helped a person.”

So far, Kilway has taken trips with Helping Hands Medical Missions, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people through medical care. In addition to the Philippines, the organization offers missions to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and countries in Central and West Africa.

During each trip, Kilway tackles a variety of surgeries. He often removes cysts and performs hernia repairs and thyroid surgeries. Procedures like these, he says, have a direct impact on patients’ quality of life.

“Some patients have enlarged thyroids, and they may have swallowing or breathing issues,” he says. “That can really affect the body and its metabolism and energy, and removing a large portion of the thyroid gland can improve their lives. The same goes with hernias and pain, especially if they’re a laborer and need to work. To be able to change their experience on this planet is a good thing.”

Kilway says his interest in medical mission trips developed over time. As an undergraduate at Notre Dame, he drew inspiration from the life of the late Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, who attended the University in the 1940s before working as a doctor in underserved areas of Southeast Asia.

“I always felt like I should go to places where I could make a difference, places that could use some help—medical missions, that sort of thing,” Kilway says. “When you get that seed planted, you’re kind of sitting there waiting for an opportunity.”

That opportunity came about a decade ago, shortly after his father, a fellow surgeon who has since passed away, retired. Kilway knew a medical mission trip might provide a tangible way for the two to give back—and it did. Father and son made several trips together, and Kilway has continued going back to the Philippines ever since.

“We had spoken many times about doing this, and when he retired, he had time for it,” Kilway says. “I felt that it was a good area in which our relationship could grow, and a unique experience to have. My dad had just retired from active practice, and I wanted to do something with him before he got too far away from his practice that he wouldn’t feel comfortable. So that was the impetus.”

The trips may continue to be a family tradition: in the coming years, Kilway says, he’d like to take his wife and the couple’s sons, ages 15 and 13, as well. 

For Kilway, these trips help to stoke his passion for making a difference—the same passion that inspired him to become a doctor in the first place.

“When I’m there, I don’t have to worry so much about paperwork—we can focus on the patients and providing medical care,” he says. “You’re just dealing with the patient and don’t have to deal with the extraneous concerns or pressures. You just focus on what you do. It is awe-inspiring to see 50 to 70 people waiting to see a doctor, and to know what a difference you can make for them.”

To learn more about how Helping Hands Medical Missions serves needy patients around the world, please visit hhmm.org.