October 3, 2012
From left to right: Denny Snyder, Yesiana Pizarro, Kathy Gantz, Prabhatk, K Carrello, Tammy Wang, Claudia Benkwitz, Michelle Johnson, Tracey O’keeffe, Veronia Sherwood, Gloria Hicks, and Byron Henry.
Yesiana Pizarro-Munoz is a valued MMFC Volunteer. She serves as Event Coordinator for our Annual Boston Gala and manages our cleft database. In September 2012 she traveled with MMFC as the Administrator on our Rwanda Cleft mission.
On September 14th Medical Missions for Children (MMFC) departed on its second mission this year to Gitwe, Rwanda – this time to restore lips and palates. Rwanda is located in central east Africa and few degrees south of the equator.
This mission was special; the whole team was full of first time visitors to Rwanda, with the exception of our Lead surgeon, Dr. Denny Snyder who has been to Rwanda a dozen of times, everyone was really looking forward to the experience. The team traveled about 24 hrs. to get to Gitwe. After close to 24 hours of travel we arrived in Kigali on Saturday night at 8pm. We moved through customs and met up with Vianney, our site coordinator. The bus drive to Gitwe, our final destination, took about two and a half hours; part of the trip was on paved highway, and the other on unpaved road, which was very bumpy and full of dust. About half way into our drive the bus suddenly stopped and everything turned pitch black. Thanks to our iPhones and quick flash lights there was light once again. Fortunately, the driver was able to start the bus but our head lights burned out. Because we were in the middle of nowhere, with no police around, we were able to continue driving by flash light!!We were thankful to our co-pilot John for holding the flash light for over forty five minutes to lead the way.
Jean De Dieu was one of our first patients on Sunday morning. He was very quiet but seemed very excited and persistent to get his surgery done. We believe he waited most of the night at the hospital gate because when we arrived and he was the first person in line to see us.
Jean De Dieu is only 15 years old; he lives in Muhanga, Nyabinoni which is about 4 hours from Gitwe. Jean was very determined for such a young man. He worked hard for the past three months to save money to pay for him and his mother’s transportation to Gitwe. He worked during the day feeding two cows and went to school in the afternoon.
Jean enjoys school very much, especially his teachers as they are very loving to him. He also enjoys his classmates but sometimes he feels lonely because some kids don’t like to play with him because of his deformity.
Jean expressed that his surgery will make such a difference in his life as kids will look at him differently. Yet he assures me that he will continue to be the same person on the inside, only his face will change. Most important he will focus on his studies.
Damoscene Nzabahimana is an Orphan from Kibuye. Damoscene lost both of his parents this year. When his parents passed away he had to drop out of school because he didn’t have any money for supplies, he was in 3rd grade. Damoscene decided to travel to Gitwe to find some work; he is staying with the village pastor and working at night delivering water. He is the youngest of his 4 siblings, all of whom left behind in Kibuye.
Damoscene actually found us by coincidence; he bumped into Vianney, as he was asking him for help in finding work. Vianney had to actually send a search party to find him because he lost him in the crowd. After his surgery Damoscene will go back to school, and Vianney will keep track of him making sure he stays in school.
We also had the privilege to meet Jean Paul, who was previously operated on by Dr. Snyder 2.5 years ago in March 2010. . He was a breath of fresh air; despite his condition he was warm, sweet, and happy. Jean spent the whole day with the team taking pictures, enjoyed lunch with us, and got to keep one of Dr. Snyder’s favorite surgical hats.
These are just some of the children the MMFC was able to help while in Gitwe in September. In total, the team performed 25 life-changing lip and palate surgeries. Since MMFC began traveling to Rwanda 6 years ago, MMFC has operated on hundreds of children and has provided medical and dental care to thousands.
MMFC’s missions to Rwanda are funded in part by the Greg Feldman, MD, Memorial Surgical Missions to Rwanda Fund. To find out more about Greg’s Fund, please visit our website at http://www.mmfc.org/Events/FeldmanFund/GregFeldmanMemFund.htm
The MMFC June Guatemala Team (L to R: Mohani Ramsahai; Andrew Shayne, Sam Seymour; Charles Badaoui; Gary Ruggera; Piero Caruso; Lorelei DeGracia; Bob Ward; Karin Oomen; Patsy Donlan; Deb Rideout; and EJ Wech. Missing from photo: Reza Jarrahy)
Sam Seymour is a graduate of Vassar College and currently performing research at an immunology lab in San Diego, California. He served as administrator on the June trip to Antigua, Guatemala – his first trip with MMFC – and is hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Here is Sam’s story.
Mid June, a small contingent of thirteen volunteers made their way to Antigua, Guatemala for what was MMFC’s second mission to Guatemala this year – a follow up to the first trip in January. This was not only the first time that MMFC has sent a team to the same location twice in one year, but also the first time that MMFC volunteers shared the surgical ward of Santo Hermano Pedro Hospital with another medical team for the week. Both teams did an excellent job of working together not only to accommodate one another’s needs, but also to augment one another’s work.
The MMFC team arrived in Guatemala City late Saturday afternoon to a warm, sunny day. Confronted by new customs regulations that had literally been implemented that day, the team spent hours attempting to release bags of pharmaceutical drugs and equipment. Eventually, we left the supplies behind with the hopes of retrieving the bags another day. With team leader Charlie Badaoui guiding the way, we wound our way through a myriad of taxi drivers and vendors selling plastic bags of chilled water from dusty backpacks, and hauled ourselves into a large passenger van bound for the city of Antigua.
After a relatively smooth two-hour ride through Guatemala City’s dense rush-hour traffic, the shocks of our passenger van were suddenly strained to capacity as we reached the limits of Antigua’s ancient cobblestone streets. Antigua – once the capital of the Spanish Central American territory – is a prosperous city rich in history. However, despite a thriving tourism industry and frequent visits from international students wishing to immerse themselves in Spanish-speaking culture, many of Antigua’s surrounding villages are subject to extreme poverty. The reality of life in villages throughout Guatemala is that reaching western medical care is typically a multi-day ordeal. Such care requires advanced planning and funding, not only for the care, but also for travel, food, and lodging. Combined with inadequate or insufficient nutrition, these factors lead to frequent occurrences of underdeveloped facial structure in infants who will never receive needed surgical attention. The incidences of cleft lip and cleft palate in Guatemala cause nutritional, hygienic, and social issues among the 1,000′s of untreated individuals.
On our first full day in Antigua, the MMFC team performed rigorous screenings of over 75 patients from far and wide. Over the next five days, with two dedicated operating rooms, the surgical and dental teams performed an incredible 59 procedures. For a small team to treat nearly 80% of the individuals seeking treatment while maintaining quality patient care demanded flawless, efficient communication between team members. From the perspective of an individual one-step removed from the actual medical practice, I found myself in awe at the seamless transition for each patient from pre-op, to the operating room, to the recovery floor, and finally to their bed in the hospital ward. Watching the MMFC clinicians at work was truly inspiring.
Members of the surgical and dental team take a break (L to R: Bob Ward; team leader Charlie Badaoui; Reza Jarrahy).
Sandra was one of the patients to receive treatment from the expert MMFC team. Born in February of this year (2012), she was just a little shy of 5 months old at the time of her surgery.
Sandra found the surgeons performing the screening very amusing.
Sandra – the youngest of five children – and her parents hail from the outskirts of Salamá, a city of approximately 40,000 people in the department of Baja Verapaz in central Guatemala. Sandra’s father works long days harvesting a variety of crops, most notably cardamom, (Guatemala is the world’s top producer/exporter of cardamom). The family’s initial contact with MMFC and their trip to the hospital were facilitated through Partners for Surgery, an international nonprofit health advocate with a presence in many developing nations. MMFC also relies on the excellent outreach, patient education and recruitment of TESS Unlimited. While Sandra’s condition was not a medical emergency, PIH determined that an ambulance would be the most reliable and efficient means for Sandra and her parents to make the trek from Salamá to Antigua. Sandra’s surgery was without a hitch. She left the hospital the day following her surgery with a giggle, as bright-eyed as ever.
Sandra, post-surgery and right after a long nap
It was a privilege to be a part of an operation offering highly-skilled labor at no cost to patients; labor which, until seen first-hand, can be hard to recognize as life-changing. After what is typically an hour of surgery, MMFC patients leave the OR with life-changing results allowing them to lead their lives to the fullest.
MMFC will return to Antigua, Guatemala in January 2013 and again in June 2013.
April 10, 2012
Administrator Aditya Mahalingam-Dhingra traveled with his father, MMFC Team Leader and Surgeon Dr. Jag Dhingra to Rwanda last month where the volunteer team perfomed 26 successful thyroidectomies. These are some of his observations.
The MMFC Team arrived in Kigali Friday night – and I was most surprised by the fact that we were literally bringing everything with us – equipment, supplies, instruments, and medications. We arrived with over a dozen oversized duffel bags and at least a half dozen large boxes and hard covered pelican carrying cases.
On Saturday we packed everything into a large van that resolutely bounced us along the road from Kigali to Gitwe – an arduous drive that took 3 hours. We arrived to find an operating room that was empty save for a large overhead lamp. We quickly filled the room with the duffels, boxes, and arrays of disassembled devices. The low chatter of our team accompanied the hours of unpacking, sorting, assembline, and testing. By the end of the day, when we retired early and exhausted, we had a functioning OR and PACU, a table full of neatly arranged medications, and a list of patients — culled from the dozen or more who had been waiting in the hospital’s halls all day to be screened by our surgeons — who would be operated on the next day.
The sudden apparition of our functioning little three-room base of operations, like a foreign organ transplanted onto the first floor of Gitwe’s welcoming rural hospital, was a wonder to me. Most amazing of all, even more so than when, two days into our mission, I was able to get the printer to spit out in navy blue ink (the black cartridge was empty) my own halting French translation of our medical team’s post-op care instructions, was how quickly and efficiently a routine was established. The team woke, breakfasted, and deployed to their rooms, patients cycled through, and by the end of the day new patients had been screened and the next day’s OR schedule was ready for printing. Four days into the mission the MMFC team had successfully finished twenty-six cases.
I now have an even greater appreciation for the humanitarian work my father and his MMFC colleagues do. It is a monumental undertaking that starts with deciding what supplies and equipment need to be taken to the work site, packing, carrying everything with us, unpacking, setting up, performing the surgeries, packing up, and carrying everything home. Everyone on this mission needed to help out wherever and whenever needed – and everyone did. I am grateful for this opportunity to meet and work with such dedicated and skilled professionals.
Finally, I want to share what a poignent and special moment it was when the team gathered around the tree that was planted last year in March 2011 in memory of an MMFC colleague and volunteer surgeon, Greg Feldman. I never met Greg but he clearly had a tremendous impact on the hospital, the village of Gitwe, and each and every MMFC volunteer who had worked with him in March 2010. The missions to Gitwe will now be officially known as the Greg Feldman, MD Memorial Surgical Missions to Rwanda. For more information on the fund set up by Greg’s family in his honor, please visit the MMFC website.
Click here to watch MMFC’s new 4 minute video 2012 MMFC Angeles City, Philippines .
MMFC sent a 13 member volunteer medical team to Angeles City from February 10-18, 2012 to work at the Dee Hwa Liong Foundation Medical Center, a private hospital owned by Timothy Paul llanos Dee and his family. This was MMFC’s 3rd annual mission to Angeles City and it continues to grow in scope and impact each and every year. This year for the first time we conducted a dental clinic.
MMFC screened over 150 children, performed 51 surgical procedures (36 of which were cleft lip and/or palate) and ran a 3 day dental clinic led by Dr. Fortune Vardeman where we treated 144 patients. Our MMFC speech pathologist also worked with an astounding 56 patients. Of these, 20 patients received 45 minute – 1 hour long speech therapy sessions and 36 patients received pre-op speech/feeding evaluations with post-op visits and education.
It was an amazing effort by the entire volunteer team – way to go!
One of the in-country volunteers and alumni of HFA Batch 83, Emily Turla, spoke to the families of each of our patients to learn a little bit more about their lives, interests and hopes for the future. We would like to share some of their stories with you here.
Michael Vincent is in the second grade. He was left by his biological mother when he was only a month old. Luckily for Michael, he was adopted by July Rafael. July is a hairdresser, dressmaker and caterer. Michael lovingly calls his adopted father “PAPA LY”.
July learned about the medical mission through a family friend who had seen an MMFC poster at the Holy Rosary Parish Church in Angeles City. Michael is excited to return to his family and school with his new “fixed lip”.
Dan Jimboy is the second of 2 children of Nicanor and Mary Grace Ledesma. His parents are separated. His mother is a teacher at Moncada, Tarlac. Dan Jimboy finished his secondary education but refused to continue his college education because of his cleft palate condition. He had his cleft lip operation when he was only 8 months old.
They learned about the medical mission last 2011 through their neighbors who were patients then at Dee Hwa Liong while the 2011 medical mission was ongoing. They, however, weren’t able to make it to the surgical week. Thankfully they we able to make it this year. While Dan’s age prevents him from having a cleft palate surgery with a positive outcome, MMFC was able to repair his lip and fit him with an obturator that will help him with eating and speech. Dan now says he will consider attending college.
Jackilyn is a beautiful 9 year old cleft lip & palate patient from Candaba, Pampanga. She is the 2nd to the youngest of 11 children of Bong and Joselyn Estacio. She likes school and candy.
Sadly, her mother died 6 yrs ago from cervical cancer. Her father, BONG, buys and sells junk or as we call it here “bakal-bote”. Her older brothers also work to help their father support the family. Jackilyn is presently under the care of of Ms. Nerissa Gonzales, a family neighbour.
Both Jackilyn and her younger brother were born with cleft deformities. A couple of years ago, the family heard of a free cleft repair clinic and her younger brother was able to get the repair, but only one family member was able to go. After their mother died of cancer six years ago, he was adopted by family friends. a family friend who wasn’t able to have children.
Jackilyn’s caretaker, Ms. Gonzalez heard about this medical mission when it was announced at her church during services and told Jackilyn’s brother to bring her, and he did. Jackilyn’s brother said that she stays in a lot, only going out for school or quick errands but doesn’t like to go out much because of her cleft. MMFC performed lip surgery on Jackilyn and is confident that her life will now change for the better.
Anthony is five years old and the youngest of 3 children of Lulu and Toto from Nueva Ecija. Angeline is 13 and their oldest. They earn a living as farmers. Anthony, Angelina and their brother Bernardo have been MMFC patients since 2010. This is Anthony’s 3rd operation. Angeline had a cleft lip operation in 2011 was fitted this year with an obturator.
Jhendel will soon be 2 years old. He is the second of 2 children of Jelsa, a single mom who works as a restaurant server/waitress. She has always been on a continuous look out for medical missions who can operate her son. She learned of MMFC medical mission through her relatives. She believes that Jhendel will now have the same opportunities as all other children.
John Lloyd is 6 months old and the second of 2 children of Jenny and Alvin Cunanan, both farmers from Nueva Ecija. They learned of the medical mission through their relatives, LULU and Augusto Dela Cruz, whose children Anthony, Bernardo and Angeline have been our patients since 2010.
Rafael is 3 months old and the youngest of 3 children of Peaches and Rommel. They learned about the medical mission through the PORAC HEALTH CENTER. His parents cannot believe how lucky Rafael is to receive this free surgery.
Ace is 19 years old and the second of 2 children of the late Dulsora and Verlyn Dudoc. HE hails from SAMAR province and travelled to Angeles City upon the advise of his aunt who resides in Mountain View, Angeles City when she learned about the MMFC surgical mission. He wishes he had been able to get this surgery earlier in life, it would have made many things easier, but he is gratefull to have been selected to receive the surgery this year.
Chan-Leo is 4 years old and the second of 2 children of Antonette, a single mom who works part time as laundry woman. Chan Leo had his lip repaired by MMFC in 2011 and returned this year to have his palate repaired.
Angel is almost 2 years old. She first had her lip operated on in April 7, 2010 (at only 1 month old) in Iloilo with another medical mission group. After a week her wound opened up and has not healed well.
Her parents found out about MMFC’s when her Godmother had her medical check-up a Dee Hwa Liong Hospital and saw MMFC’s tarpaulin regarding the medical mission. Her mother is very grateful for MMFC and this surgery.
MMFC would like to thank our in-country volunteer and, in particular, Tim Dee, Fortune Vardeman, Judith Feliciano, Candy Ledesma, Dr. Canlan, the OR staff led by Carlos Ulysses Ramos and the Holy Family Academy Batch 83. We are also extremely grateful to our mission funders Dr. Lisa Molin, Foundation 14 and hundreds of loyal MMFC donors whose $10, $25 and $50 contributions ensured that this mission happened and that it was the success it deserved to be. We thank each of you for the part you played in bringing this much needed surgical care to some needy and very deserving Filipino children.
February 28, 2012
Scott R. Chaiet, MD is a resident in the Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Division of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. He joined MMFC in January for our 5th surgical trip to Phalodi, Rajasthan, India. Scott’s participation was made possible through AAO-HNSF, the American Association of Otolaryngologists and Head Neck Surgery Foundation and the generous financial support of the Alcon Foundation. We are proud to welcome Scott to MMFC and to share his words with you.
There once was a woman who grew up in the poor northwest state Rajasthan, India about 300km from the Pakistani border, who was granted a chance to move to North America with her best friend where they would both attend medical school, establish prosperous careers at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and even work in a makeshift laboratory space above an Ohio slaughter house to harvest pig pancreatic islet cells for research. In a selfless move, Kanti Jain (her family name for the obscure religion) and her friend Shareen would give up their careers to return to their home of Phalodi to take over a small clinic Kanti’s sister had started before succumbing to cancer. The clinic would evolve into a hospital with dormitory space to house poor family members, a school for the local poor children and those of other professionals who returned to the region, but even this was not enough for Khanti. She created work training programs to empower women, built a dialysis center, and procured a rural mobile vaccination unit that to date has administered approximately 100,000 vaccines. She also partnered with Medical Missions for Children (MMFC), a Boston-based international charity that sends teams of surgeons around the world to remote areas like Phalodi to provide free cleft surgeries.
It’s difficult to capture the feelings of gratitude, respect, and admiration I have gained for these two women and their extended family who work together, but as I journey home reflecting on a personally successful week, it does not seem worthy to give myself even a small pat on the back or receive a “job well done” in the shadows of Khanti or Shareen.
But the week was truly amazing. As a surgeon, I gained two mentors who gave me 24/7 access to their knowledge of surgical skills and humanitarian aid with some subtle teasing and resident abuse, in exchange for my incessant questions during our 35 procedures over 2 half-days and 3 full-days in the operating room. Farhad Sigari selflessly gives up multiple weeks of his year for MMFC missions, not from a large well-established practice, but from his new solo otolaryngology practice. And Merry Sebilik, an academic Head & Neck Surgeon in Memphis, I can really credit for getting me on this trip (I received a grant from her Academy committee and personally received her words of advice at the 2010 Annual Meeting, not knowing the connection until this week). Merry has renewed my passion for teaching, leadership, humanitarianism, and will probably get credit for inspiring me to make many more surgical trips with MMFC.
Seven other MMFC members led by pediatric gastroenterologist, Helen John-Kelly, MD each helped create a lean mean patient care machine, and took the time to teach the new guy in a remarkable drama-free week that centered on patient care, food, masala chai tea, Kingfisher beer, and more food.
One child who made a particular impression on me was named Ganesh. I worked with Merry Sebelik on Thursday to repair his bilateral cleft lip. The name Ganesh is one of the Hindi gods that is based on an elephant and is good luck (we even had a stuffed animal Ganesh hanging from the anesthesia machine at the hospital). The boy’s double-clefted smile captured the heart of the whole team and I was lucky to get a few photos with him in his near celebrity status. His sister, also adorable, had her lip repaired one year ago and got her palate closed the day before her baby brother had his lip repaired.
I want to thank my mentor and biggest supporter Ben Marcus and my program for making this trip possible. On behalf of the children of Phalodi who received this life-changing surgery, my deepest gratitite to AAO-HNSF and the Alcove Foundation for funding my participation. I look forward to continuing my humanitarian work with MMFC on many future trips.
Scott Chaiet, MD