I want to end with the story of Jefferson, an incredibly cute 6-month old baby with a cleft lip and palate. Here is a photo of him from clinic day last week, dressed in the cutest denim overalls! We noticed that the parents often dressed their children in what may be their best outfits because the visit to the hospital is such an important day in their children’s lives. Everyone on the team found this little guy so adorable; we all pulled out their cameras to take pictures of him.
The surgery to repair his cleft lip was successful, and we hope to see this delightful little boy next year for palate surgery.
As we prepare to return to the United States, I can’t help but reflect on what an incredible two weeks it has been. This Interplast team has performed free surgeries to heal the bodies and change the lives of over 70 patients here in Cusco, Peru. It has been an amazing journey for all of us. We will all share many wonderful memories of the charming town of Cusco and our kind hosts in the Hospital Regional. Most of all, though, we treasure meeting the adorable children of Interplast, and their loving families and caretakers.
On behalf of the entire team, I want to express our profound gratitude to Ronald McDonald House Charities (“RMHC”), the generous sponsor of this life-changing trip to Cusco, Peru. Without their support – and the product donations of so many other companies – this trip could not have happened. From RMHC’s contributions to fully fund this trip (and several others this year), to the Ronald McDonald coloring books provided for the children in the waiting room, to the McDonald’s stickers that the children treasured as gifts on their way to the operating room, this entire trip has been an example of RMHC’s dedication to helping children around the world.
Finally, I personally feel so honored to have worked with such a dedicated group of professionals. I am so impressed by my fellow team members’ commitment, and the fact that each of them took two weeks out of their busy lives to give back to the world. I invite you to visit the Interplast website (www.interplast.org), and sign up for our mailing list to learn more about how you can help too.
Last night we had a farewell party with our hosts from El Hospital Regional in Cusco. About 30 of us had a wonderful evening at the restaurant, “El Sabor del Cusco” (“The Taste of Cusco) to thank our hosts and celebrate our achievements. Guests included doctors, nurses, and administrators who helped our team with obtaining operating room equipment, caring for patients on the wards, and pre-screening potential patients. Interplast relies on international partnerships like these in order to carry out our programs around the world.
Here is a photo of plastic surgeon Dr. Mario Cornejo with the director of El Hospital Regional del Cusco, and team leader Kay Neal, R.N. After Kay made a beautiful speech about our partnership with Dr. Cornejo and the hospital, the director presented Interplast with a lovely plaque commemorating our visit. One thing that Kay said rang especially true: “Over the past two weeks, we have changed the lives of many children who could not otherwise afford such care, but we have also experienced a transformation in our own lives as well.”
Two of Dr. Cornejo’s assistants, Rosa and Gilda (pictured here to my left and right), were dedicated to helping our team for the past two weeks. These two women were instrumental to our success because of their intricate knowledge of the hospital system and their loving care for the children who came for surgery.
All of us from the Interplast team want to express our deep appreciation to Dr. Cornejo, Rosa, Gilda, and all the others who welcomed us so graciously to Cusco…
He was such a well-mannered and gentle child, and blew kisses to everyone on the team. I was also impressed by Anderson’s father, who was incredibly caring for his son. I really appreciated how open he was with us about his son’s condition. He shared that Anderson’s cleft palate made eating a challenge since food could come out of his nose through the gap in the roof of his mouth.
Here is a photo of Anderson from rounds this morning, blowing kisses at us!
We first met Anderson on clinic day, wearing the cutest brown jumper. He is two years old, and Interplast fixed his cleft lip last year. On this trip, Anderson received free surgery for his cleft palate.
As the Associate Director of Foundation &
Corporate Relations for Interplast, I wanted to say a special thank you to all
the companies that donate so many medical supplies to Interplast for trips like
this one to Cusco. I have been amazed by the amount of medications,
sutures, needles, gloves, tubing, monitors, and so many other items, that have
been essential to the safety and quality of the surgeries we have provided
like the ones mentioned here have been incredibly generous to Interplast,
allowing us to use a greater portion of our budget toward providing even more
free surgeries around the world. Our new website (which will go live in
about a month or so) will have a special section honoring all of our partners,
where you can find out more about these wonderful corporate citizens…
This morning on rounds, we said goodbye to Luciana, our last child from the El Hogar Santa Teresa orphanage. She is the sweetest child – so sweet in fact that her nickname at the orphanage is “Galletita,” or “Little Cookie”! Here you’ll see a photo of her from clinic day last Monday – I love the tiny pigtails!
When I met Luciana on clinic day and also on the day of surgery, I was struck by her incredible curiosity about everything around her. Here is a photo of Luciana from rounds this morning with Jackeline, the incredible social worker from El Hogar. You’ll see Luciana gripping her medication in a typical display of her inquisitiveness!
Luciana was abandoned by her parents soon after she was born with a cleft lip and palate. Unfortunately, although this may sound extreme, Interplast has treated many children in the same situation. In fact, Luciana’s bilateral cleft lip was repaired by Interplast last year. Since she is just now starting to make sounds to speak, it was crucial that her cleft palate also be repaired soon.
Anesthesiologist John Holl waiting for his next case. Much of the anesthesia equipment surrounding him has been donated by generous companies and organizations, including Tyco Healthcare, Abbott Laboratories, and AmeriCares.
Interplast provides free hand surgeries as a part of its mission to help children with birth defects and injuries. In fact, two of our 18 team trips this year are exclusively dedicated to providing hand surgeries for children with birth defects, burns, and other trauma. Here is an adorable follow up photo of Diego, who you met earlier this week. This morning, he came to see us for a lollipop and a dressing change.
The surgeons decided to release one of her fingers so that she could pick up objects using her thumb and finger. Yudisa was so stoic going into the operating room, and so calm in the recovery room. Here is a photo of her resting after a dressing change yesterday. I’m so excited for Yudisa’s future with the functional use of both of her hands…
Here is a photo of Yudisa, a lovely four-year old girl who was born with a deformity of her left hand. Her four fingers were fused together, and she was missing part of her fingers as well. Here you’ll see a photo of Yudisa with some stickers that we gave her to cheer her up.
I am Mike Fallon, one of the pediatric anesthesiologists on this trip. Our ultimate goal is to provide a safe environment for the child before, during, and after surgery. We also assist the team pediatrician and surgeons in post-operative pain management.
Providing anesthesia at a high altitude results in some unique challenges, but with the three experienced anesthesiologists on this trip, we have been successful at providing safe and high-quality anesthesia for these life-changing surgeries. Having lived in Alaska for most of my life, I enjoy the altiplano region of Peru because it reminds me of home with its beautiful landscapes and cool weather.
Another challenge of providing anesthesia in developing countries is learning how to be resourceful in using the materials that are available, and not necessarily what we’re used to back at home. I really enjoy the challenge of making things work that otherwise might be problematic – it’s a lot like MacGyver!
It’s always a privilege to come and work with the children on these Interplast trips. Yesterday, I met Cintia, a cute little girl with a cleft palate. Although Cintia could not speak very well because of her palate, she was quite chatty and spoke through her mother, who was more familiar with her speech pattern.
Through her mother, Cintia told us that it was her fifth birthday! She was so excited to celebrate her special day with all of us. Here is a picture of Cintia before surgery. She is holding up her new stickers and wearing the barrettes that Maureen gave her for her birthday.
This morning on rounds, Cintia wanted to be the Interplast doctors’ little helper, so she walked around to each bed with Maja and Kathy in order to say hello to the other children and observe the conversations.
I am Kathy Gallagher, the pediatrician on this trip. I am especially grateful for the opportunity
I have as a pediatrician to visit our patients and families on the wards. My job is to write admission and discharge
orders, dispense medications, and check on “our kids.”
Often in the surgery and recovery areas, the children are
frightened or uncomfortable, although they may put on a brave face. By the time they are settled in the ward, the
smiles and chatter really blossom… and the fun begins!
It is wonderful to see the sense of community on the wards –
everyone cares for everyone else. Forget
privacy! If we are answering questions
or giving instructions to one family, several tiers of other patients and
families gather, deeply interested, and ready to offer advice and assistance. Yesterday, I came into the ward to see one
mother helping another learn to feed her child with a dropper after cleft lip
surgery. Another time, we found a
patient not in his bed, and a neighbor was able to tell us where the family was
and if there were any problems. And if
one family has trouble wrestling the child-proof caps, another comes over to
help every time.
Here in Cusco, it is particularly gratifying to have our patients step forward to help with translation. Often it is to untangle my rudimentary Spanish, but we also have many patients from the high Andes who only speak Quechua. Whenever we have a Quechua family who cannot understand our translators, there always seems to be another mother who speaks both and steps out of the gathered assembly to translate for us.
And the families! Peru seems to have a particular abundance of caring extended families. Patients who have traveled two days for their surgery often have friends or family here with whom to stay, and tias (aunts), tios (uncles), and primos (cousins) who visit them in the hospital.
We have all been particularly touched by Fidel’s family, whom we told you about a couple of days ago. I am happy to report that Fidel’s surgery appears to have been a success; he will now have more movement of his right hand, particularly the important use of his thumb. I first met him when he came to see the Interplast team in Puno, Peru in September 2002, but I had not met his three delightful children – Rodrigo (12), Ana (9), and Haiderly (7). They waited patiently in the hall during Fidel’s surgery, and inquired often about how he was doing. As soon as Fidel awoke from surgery, his first question was about the children. And as soon as the kids were allowed in the recovery room, they gathered around Fidel’s bed to stroke his head and pat his hand.
Fidel is a single father, so his children were allowed to spend the night in the bed next to his. I was so touched to see how they jumped in to put away his clothes and smooth the sheets to make their own bed – as always, with a “Gracias, Doctora…” Here is a picture of the kids with their father and Mary Whitehead, our trip coordinator/translator.
Encounters such as these remind us of what is really important in life – the power of a smile and warm hearts…
Yesterday, we met a little guy named Diego, who had syndactyly, or a web between two of his fingers. Surgery is essential for this deformity so that three-year old Diego can learn how to write properly and grasp objects when he’s playing with his friends.
I was trying to cheer him up before surgery by playing with Julito. While we were playing, our translator Mary Whitehead discovered that Julito also has webbed fingers. We told Diego that the puppet would have surgery on the following day and that he was feeling scared. Diego told the puppet so sweetly that there was nothing to be afraid of! This morning, Diego and Julito were reunited, both with colorful bandages on their hands. When we left, Diego waved goodbye and said “Ciao!” to his new friend, Julito.
This is Carla before her surgery, a very cute three-month old with a cleft lip and palate. She received surgery yesterday for her cleft lip, and will hopefully be seen by Interplast for her palate in the future.
The parents warmly invited all of us to Carla’s baptism ceremony this evening at the famous cathedral on the Plaza de Armas, the central square in Cusco. Depending on how today’s surgery schedule goes, some of us may try to attend. Even if we can’t go in person, we’re all sending our warmest wishes to Carla and her family for a bright future!
And here is a photo of Jose Luis, who you met yesterday with his father. Simone was trying to check out his palate this morning after yesterday’s successful surgery. You’ll notice that Julito the puppet is in the background showing Jose Luis how to open his mouth and say “aaaaah”…
I’m Maureen Cox, one of the operating room nurses on this trip. I am so excited to be a part of this Interplast team to Cusco. Even though there is such variety in the ages of our team members, we are all bonding so well and have really come to appreciate one another.
I’ve been so impressed by the love and concern of the fathers of our patients. They often travel alone for long distances to seek out Interplast’s help. It is so heartwarming how carefully they entrust their children to us. At first, I was surprised to see what we are used to labeling as “maternal” love coming from the fathers – they show such open affection for their children. I remember a patient from last week, Andres, who received surgery for his cleft lip. His father was so sweet in the recovery room, carefully stroking Andres’s face with tears in his eyes. In this picture, Andres' father and Julito the Dragon try to cheer him up.
Today, another father brought his four year old son, Jose Luis, to see Interplast. Jose Luis needed surgery to repair his cleft palate, and had received surgery from Interplast for his cleft lip in the past. At four years old, it is crucial that Jose Luis’s palate is repaired soon so that he can learn to speak normally. Father and son had traveled almost two days from the district of Quillabamba to Cusco. Jose Luis was such a sweet boy today, and I was just so happy that we could accommodate them because of the long distance they had traveled.
We had a lot of visitors today – some of the patients returned to the hospital for check-ups. I wanted to show you this photo of Joel, who you met last week . The surgery to release Joel’s burn contractures was successful. Here is a photo of him with his father. Joel can now lift up his head and raise his arm from the shoulder. He is such a pleasant boy – before he left, he shook all of our hands and said, “Muchas gracias!” to each one of us…
I’m Mary Whitehead, and I am a translator - coordinator on this trip. I’ve been volunteering with Interplast since September 2003, and have gone on two trips a year since then. I saw a piece about Interplast on San Francisco’s Evening Magazine television show, and from there I checked the website. I couldn’t get my application in fast enough! I have used my Spanish in my previous career as a financial aid counselor, but Interplast has been the most rewarding use of my language skills by far.
Today we saw the cutest little baby boy from the orphanage El Hogar Santa Teresa named Jaime. Jaime had an extra digit on his right foot. Jacquelyn, the social worker from the orphanage, told me that this was causing difficulty for Jaime since he’s trying to learn how to walk right now, and is starting to wear baby shoes. Here you’ll see two pictures of Jaime from last Monday’s clinic day, with one of the novices from the orphanage.
Jaime’s mother was killed only two months ago by a lightning strike. His family lives in a rural district eight hours south of Cusco. Jaime has six older brothers and sisters, so his father asked the orphanage to care for him until he is older. Jaime’s father comes and visits the orphanage whenever he can.
Jaime’s surgery was successful, and we all learned how feisty he can be as he awoke from anesthesia! It turns out that all he wanted was some water, and to be held by Jacquelyn. Everyone here was taken by Jaime because he was just so cute. He’s going to be a real heartbreaker someday.
Today, I got to spend some time with Sheyla, another little girl from the orphanage. Sheyla is four years old and has a fistula, or gap, in her palate, making it difficult for her to talk. Jacquelyn told me that Sheyla rarely speaks at all, and they are hoping that after the surgery, she’ll be more willing to try.
I played with Sheyla, and I was so impressed by her intelligence. Sheyla took the stickers and coloring book I gave her from Ronald McDonald House Charities, and created a new game. She put the stickers with their matching characters in the coloring book, and also asked me (in gestures) the names of each character. She also asked me to take her picture and show it to her on the digital camera.
By the time she left, Sheyla and I were great “amigas”! I hope that with this surgery – and the loving care of the orphanage – Sheyla will learn to speak. With her intelligence, I’m sure she’ll thrive in school…
I’m John Holl, one of the anesthesiologists on this trip to Cusco. This is my 18th Interplast trip. Since 1976, I’ve traveled around the world on
over 40 international medical trips with many organizations. I am a retired pediatric anesthesiologist
from Children’s Hospital in San Diego,
and I still make it a priority to go on several trips per year. Serving in this way is an important part of
my life. I’m so pleased that I am able
to give back a talent that I’ve developed over the years. We’re all citizens of one world, and I really
believe that the chance to help people is what’s important in life.
What has impressed me most about this trip to Cusco is the teamwork, and how well our team has come together. I get such a warm feeling that there are so many
Interplast veterans here. It’s sometimes
difficult to express to people who haven’t been on a trip just how moving this
experience is. With other veterans,
there is a bond that almost goes without saying.
Today, I examined a 50-year old gentleman named Fidel, who came here from Puno (see photo). Simone had performed surgery for Fidel on an Interplast trip to Puno last year. He suffered a terrible burn about four years ago in a household fire when gas fuel and alcohol exploded on his face and arms. Unfortunately, Fidel was robbed on his way to Cusco last weekend, so he missed our clinic day on Monday. However, we included him at the end of today’s schedule because of the extent of his injuries and the distance he has traveled to get here. Simone performed surgery to release some of the burn contractures on his forearm to give him more movement of his arm and hand. Simone is also working on recommendations for Interplast’s partner surgeon in Puno, who can hopefully perform additional surgeries for Fidel in the future.
Fidel’s story is illustrative of how much the people want to be treated, and how incredible the need is around the world. It also shows the great lengths to which patients will go to visit an Interplast team. On past trips, I have met parents who have walked for seven days to see Interplast. Our journey by plane from the U.S. seems so small in comparison…
I’m Maja Neff, and I am one of the translator-secretaries on this Interplast trip to Cusco. I traveled here from Germany, where I am a doctoral student in literature of the Americas. This is my first trip with Interplast - joining the team was one of the best decisions I ever made! I’m so excited about our work and I love being so close to the people treated by Interplast.
Today I met the cutest three-year old girl named Karen. She was so calm and brave despite the impending surgery. Before going into the operating room, we sat together and colored.
Karen had a fistula (hole) between her gum line and her nose. Her mother told me that this would cause food and drink to come out of her nose. This kind of fistula can also cause speech problems that would have been isolating for her when she starts kindergarten next year.
After surgery, I went to visit Karen in the pediatric ward. My puppet, Julito the Dragon, came along with me. At first, Karen had tears in her eyes from the surgery and the foreign surroundings, but once she saw Julito, she became curious about me and the puppet. Tomorrow, Julito and I will see Karen off, wishing her a bright and hopeful future.
Yesenia is a 12-year old girl who was burned two years ago. She traveled 10 hours from the district of Marcapata to see the Interplast team in Cusco. I first met Yesenia on Monday during the clinic day, and I was happy to see her again today for surgery. She was wearing a pink turtleneck sweater on both days in order to cover up her scars. She was very open and sweet, although obviously shy about her burns.
Yesenia told me that her friend was selling alcohol to the people in her village and had stopped by Yesenia’s house about two years ago. Unfortunately, some of the alcohol fell on the floor, hitting a lit match and exploding onto Yesenia’s face. As a reflex, Yesenia told me that she tried to wipe away the fire from her face with her hands, causing terrible burns on her neck, chin, and hands.
Before surgery, her lower lip was constantly held open due to the skin contractures on her neck and chin, which pulled her head downward. Here is a photo of her from today, with her grandmother. Her surgery today was a success, and she should soon be able to move her head back and forth and fully close her mouth. Yesenia is such a lovely young woman, and I really appreciate the opportunity to have met her...
Today we saw the cutest little boy from El Hogar Santa Teresa (St. Theresa’s Orphanage). You might remember that we told you about the children from the orphanage who came to see us on clinic day. Juan Adrian’s parents came from the region of Paucartambo, about three hours from Cusco. Jacquelyn, the orphanage coordinator, told me that they call this place “The Balcony of the World” because of its high altitude and spectacular views.
Juan Adrian received surgery for his cleft lip from Interplast last
year – I recognized him on clinic day from photos I had seen at the
office. Jacquelyn told me that he loves to eat, but sometimes it is
hard to feed him because food and drink come out of his nose through
the opening in the roof of his mouth. He was very chubby despite his
difficulties eating, making him quite an adorable baby!
It was so touching to see the way that Jacquelyn and another caretaker from the orphanage cared for Juan Adrian with so much love and affection. I had a chance to visit Juan Adrian on the wards later in the day. He was so calm and sweet - as usual - despite the fact that he had been through surgery only hours before.
I’m Susan Bruch, a registered nurse in charge of the
recovery room on this Interplast trip. At home in California, I
am a nursing instructor at DeAnza College. It’s been great to apply my skills of being
an educator and a nurse with a background in pediatrics here in Cusco, Peru and in other countries with Interplast.
I love working with people from different cultures, which is
one of the reasons I’ve volunteered with Interplast for almost 20 years. At DeAnza, I work
with colleagues and students from many different cultures, so I appreciate the
opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds through Interplast. It really allows me to study and improve my
communications skills, which are so crucial for the practice of nursing and
Teaching is very high on my priority list for the day, even on an Interplast trip. For the past two days, I have supervised nursing interns here in the Cusco Hospital Regional, who have been incredibly helpful to me in the recovery room. This has created a valuable opportunity for education alongside the Interplast surgeries. Here you can see a photo of me with Shiowan, one of the hospital’s nursing interns. Shiowan has completed the required four years of nursing school, and is now doing an internship to specialize in pediatrics.
Today, I asked Shiowan to speak with the parents of one of our patients, Maria Jesus, to tell them how the surgery went. Later, we talked to Maria Jesus’s parents about proper follow-up care after surgery. I really believe in the importance of empowering the parents of our patients with medical knowledge about the health of their children. Interplast allows me to use my experiences as a nurse educator to help children and families, as well as the nurses who care for them.
I am Michael Flynn, and I am one of the anesthesiologists on this trip. Today, I was the anesthesiologist on a very touching case to treat a young boy named Joel. He is an adorable 7-year old boy with major burns on his neck and arm causing contractures that prevented him from looking up or raising his left arm.
About a year ago, a kerosene lamp fell on Joel in his house. His parents felt so bad about his awful accident. His father told me they had no choice about using kerosene lamps since there is no electricity in the countryside where they live. They come from Andagueles-Abaycay, a rural district several days outside of Cusco.
His mother told me that Joel is very intelligent and loved going to school. But, after his accident, he got so behind that he hasn’t returned there yet. His parents hope he’ll go back to school after the surgery since he loves playing soccer with the other boys and studying Spanish. Although he looks quite serious in his photos, he did smile at us once in awhile, especially when I gave him some McDonald’s stickers!