Because of my experiences, I have been driven to give back and have been involved in several humanitarian efforts, including with the CRISP foundation led by Dr. Ronald Strahan at UCLA. http://www.chronogram.com/issue/2006/02/communitynotebook/index.php
Earlier this year, Debbie Fritz, a nurse at the Fishkill Ambulatory Surgery Center asked me if I wanted to go on a mission with Healing The Children, a humanitarian organization run by her good friend Dana Buffin. http://www.htcne.org/
I jumped at the opportunity. Since so many of those in the local area had generously donated supplies and expressed interest in my previous trips, I offered to put together a team. We decided this would be an ENT/Facial Plastic Surgery mission, and picked the Hospital Fernando Troconis in Santa Marta, Colombia since a team has not visited in several years. Santa Marta is a large port city located on the coast of Colombia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Marta It serves a large indigenous population, many of them with scant access to health care. On my previous trips, parents would often trek for days to reach us, hoping their children would get care.
Six months, three date and location changes, several hundred phone calls and e-mails later, we are finally on the verge of departing. Trying to juggle 20 team members with their own schedules and obligations, and who are voluntarily donating their time and paying their way is certainly no picnic (similar to herding cats, I've been told :) Soliciting all of the equipment, medications, and supplies needed for this type of surgical mission has also been a challenge (though I am once again overwhelmed by the generosity of those in our community - more on this later). Debbie and I are planing on popping a bottle of champagne when we get back from Santa Marta!
The best part will be providing care for hundreds of patients, mostly kids, who would otherwise go untreated. We will perform 50-60 surgical procedures, many of these cleft lip and palate repair - this congenital deformity makes it difficult to eat and to speak, and is terribly disfiguring leaving those afflicted ostracized from their community. A photograph of a child before and after surgical correction is shown below.
Santa Marta, here we come!