Back home in the good old US of A. For the past 10 days I was privileged to participate in Operation Smile”s “Team Haiti 2015.” This was my fourth mission with Op Smile since 2009, the previous 3 having taken place in Peru (twice in Lima and once in Iquitos–“the “Gateway to the Amazon”). Each mission is unique and special, grueling but most rewarding. This time we performed over 60 surgeries on mostly children (but several adults as well) over a 4 day period. Our 40+ person team consisted of medical and ancillary specialists from many disciplines–pediatrician(me, obviously), pediatric intensivist, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentist, speech therapy, child psychology, nurses, clerical/medical records support; and from many places–US, Canada, UK, Honduras, Sweden, Italy, France, and, of course, Haiti itself; as well as several young representatives of the organisation itself. Each dedicated person gave maximum effort to teamwork and cooperation so that our efforts for our patients would be a success and I am grateful to each one of them for their selfless efforts (and patience with putting up with the likes of me). My role was preoperative assessment and clearance for surgery and then postoperative stabilization and preparation for discharge back to home; not necessarily as straightforward as at home given 3rd world patients who have many more health risks.
This mission was accomplished in conjunction with the US Navy aboard the USNS “Comfort.” I cannot say enough about the Navy people who worked with us. They were patient, supportive, cheerful. I will admit that, as a civilian, it was a bit disconcerting–in a good way–to hear every sentence end with “ma’am” and “sir.” But they were just great. 5 days on the boat and I was getting a bit punchy and felt a great need to get off. These Navy folks have done 6 months, going all over giving the best medical care to poor people throughout the world. They amaze me and are true heroes. I encourage you all to think of them when you hear someone glibly utter the phrase “support the troops” in the future.
Operation Smile was founded in 1982 by Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee. Worldwide, it has helped literally hundreds of thousands of children and adults with cleft lip and palate and related facial deformities. You can learn more about this terrific charity and how you can support it with donations or volunteer work by clicking here and I encourage you all to do so.
As for me, I look forward to going back again in the next year or two. Having the opportunity to make a difference in these poor little kids’ lives is an immense joy and, boiled down, the reason I became a doc in the first place. My dream? Be able to do a mission after brilliant young Dr. Andrew Geneslaw completes his ICU fellowship in 2019 and we can work together. Father/son–what could be better?