Dehradun, India-Nicole Friedland, Interplast chief development officer. Photo by John Urban.
Today we meet Priyanka. At the young age of 8 years old she's already endured multiple surgeries. She was burned at age one when a household cleaner, containing acid, spilled all over her head and chest. When Interplast volunteer pediatrician Dr. Janet Volpe saw her on clinic day, she cried out her name with delight. Dr. Volpe was on the team trip in 2006 that did surgery on Priyanka to improve her eyelid and give her an eyebrow.
Her father remembered Janet and immediately rummaged through his bag to show a certificate of appreciation that the Interplast team had given him in 2006. He made himself incredibly useful on the ward, helping all the other patients with their recovery. It was a nice reunion. They had come to seek more surgery. After being examined by surgeons Dr. Tom Davenport and Dr. Eric Mooney, it was agreed that they would do some more work to improve Priyanka's eyelid and to work on her ear, which was severely damaged and on further inspection, completely closed. It is our hope that by opening the ear canal, she may gain hearing in that ear.
I sat with the father who enthusiastically shared his gratitude to Interplast. He said that as he prepared to leave the house for clinic, the roads were covered with a foot and half of snow and the buses were not running. He grabbed his two travel bags and picked up Priyanka and walked five kilometers (approximately 3 miles) through the snow until he could get to open roads. He is determined to come every time Interplast sends a team to seek more surgery for his daughter. He told us that before Interplast performed surgery on Priyanka, he was distraught, but as his daughter improved he is regaining hope for his daughter and feeling better every day.
I was struck by this. Priyanka is very disfigured. No matter how many surgeries she receives, she will never fit in neatly to society. I asked Dr. Kush why Priyanka’s father is so heartened. He pulled her original chart and I immediately understood. When Priyanka first came for surgery, her neck was fused to her chest and she could barely turn her head, she is now able to with ease. Even more visually alarming, and certainly endangering to her vision, her left eyelid was fused open to her eyebrow area. Doctors were able to release her eyelid, saving her sight and dramatically improve her appearance.
It is overwhelming to realize how deeply these small changes improve patients' lives. These are human beings, perfectly healthy and normal, whose outer appearance is forever and permanently disfigured. Often times, their spirits are equally traumatized. I hope as these two weeks go by we will lighten their spirit and find the shared joy of our common humanity. It is so good to know that we can help alleviate their suffering, even in small steps over the years.