Dehradun, India-Nicole Friedland, Interplast chief development officer. Photo by John Urban.
All around are people who have literally lost their faces and hands to the ravages of burns. A chin is melted on to a chest, fingers are stuck in a clump, lips are curled open permanently and noses burnt or contracted away. These patients have been burned in fires, some recently and some as small babies. Sadly, for some, there is nothing we can do. A young woman's eyes avert from us with shame. Her bottom lip is now permanently fused open under her chin, exposing gum and teeth. Six months ago she was burned when a gas cooking stove exploded. She is already grossly disfigured. Today, there is nothing we can do for her. At this stage, the wound must heal first. Come back next time, we encourage her. We ask the team's physical therapist to try and work with her to improve the healing process and prepare her for surgery.
It is heartbreaking. Patients’ eyes show shame and suffering, but they have done nothing to warrant shame. I am struck by the pain they live with—both physical and emotional.
We'd like to be able to erase all traces of the disfigurement, as is often easy to do with a cleft surgery, but these are much more complicated cases. The scars of their burns will remain with them forever.
There are stories of hope though. I am learning that with burns we can find hope in small ways. We met a man who had a neck release operation performed by Interplast at an earlier date. He enthusiastically turned his head left and right and up and down, showing his freedom of movement. He shared that since his surgery he's secured a job as a driver, something he could never do before his neck release.