Every year, I go on volunteer trips to perform plastic surgery in the developing world. There is more need than I could have ever thought. Many places in the world do not see medical care as a right and as such people without means go without even the most basic medical care. I have treated patients from three months old to 74 years old – and virtually every age in between who needed plastic surgery to live normal lives: lives without deformity or the stigma that comes from being disfigured.
One of my very favorite places I’ve traveled to is the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Leyte is a very pro-American region and has been since General MacArthur drove out the Japanese forces during World War II, ending nearly three years of military occupation. In the Battle of Leyte, American forces suffered 15,584 casualties, including 3,504 soldiers killed in action. This battle was the turning point that forced out the Japanese and essentially freed the country – a fact that many Filipinos have not forgotten.
The need for plastic surgery services is very high in Leyte. The incidence of cleft lip malformations is especially high. The government is very helpful in coordinating our efforts and each year and we help between 40 and 60 patients, mostly craniofacial deformities like cleft lips and palates, but occasionally burn and/or trauma victims.
Cleft lips and palates can cause a number of issues if not repaired. Babies can have trouble feeding from lack of suction, speech is impaired and that is nothing compared to the negative social repercussions that can sometimes follow.
This year our team from Medical Missions for Children, which included doctors, nurses, and assistants, treated 45 children during a one week effort. We’re happy to report that all children did well and we look forward to returning in 2011.
Please enjoy the photos of our trips (2007-2010). I’m quite sure that our team members got much more from the children than we were able to give!