BY the end of today, 40 children from across the country will have undergone free cleft lip and palate surgeries at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital (HKU-SZH) since Thursday.
It’s the fourth time that the hospital has offered free diagnosis and treatment to children with cleft lip and palate since it launched the program in 2015, which has helped over 100 children — most of them from poor families or welfare centers — repair their cleft lips or palates over the past two years.
At least one 1-year-old boy from a rural village in Jiangxi Province, identified as Tongtong, is benefiting from this program for a second time. This time, to repair his cleft palate. He joined the program late last year when he was 7 months old and his cleft lip was fixed in the first surgery.
“I’m really grateful to the hospital,” said Tongtong’s aunt, surnamed Wei. “We used to avoid bringing Tongtong out in the daytime before he received the surgery because other people might point fingers at him.”
According to Wei, the boy’s family couldn’t afford the medical cost of repairing his cleft lip and palate when he was born. Thankfully Tongtong’s cleft lip has been successfully repaired and the family is glad that the boy has been given another opportunity to repair his cleft palate, Wei said.
“Tongtong has recently been learning to speak, but he couldn’t say words very clearly, probably because of his cleft palate. I think the problem will be solved after the second surgery,” Wei said.
Lo Chung-mau, the hospital’s president, said that the program was not only about doing charity, but also providing a professional exchange and training platform for the hospital’s medical workers by cooperating with other medical institutions, such as Medical Missions for Children (MMFC), an American nonprofit organization that offers free medical services to children across the globe.
According to Lo, the hospital has also set up a charity fund to help patients who are in need of financial support. He said that doctors are prohibited from taking gifts or red envelopes from patients, and when the hospital fails to return gifts or money to the patients, it auctions off the gifts publicly and donates the money to the fund.
The charity fund has collected over 100,000 yuan (US$14,700) since it was launched in 2013. “We don’t want the hospital to be polluted by the stink of money. If the patients really want to show their gratitude to the hospital, they can donate money to the fund and help more patients,” Lo said.
According to the hospital, the program will continue recruiting children with cleft lip and palate from across the country and provide free surgeries to another 50 children at the end of this year. Residents can check the hospital’s official website (www.hku-szh.org) for more information.
Apart from MMFC, the program is also supported by the Rotary Club of Hong Kong Northwest, Hong Kong Association for Cleft Lip and Palate, Lee & Man Paper Manufacturing Ltd., and Hong Kong Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.
As the geographical dispersed MMFC team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, dentists, and non-medical volunteers converged on Angeles City, I was stuck in a Blizzard. I was scheduled to fly out with the Boston team, but was unable to get to the airport due to blizzard conditions on Cape Cod, where I live. So, the team arrived in Angles City without me. After a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, they went onto the hospital to screen the waiting children for surgery.
Day 2 – Surgery Begins:
I arrived in Angeles City, just as surgeries started for the day. This year, we had two surgical beds in the operating room. This allowed us to preform 8 cleft lip/palate repairs a day. We had 40 scheduled for the week, with a few possible additions. Some children were sent home from screening with antibiotics to clear up lung infections. We would check them later in the week and if they had improve would be added to the schedule.
Meet the Children of Angeles City:
Irish is a 3 month old girl with cleft lip and no cleft palate. Her mother’s cousin has a cleft palate. No cleft deformities on her father’s side of the family. Her mother is 36 and did not have prenatal care. She does smoke and did smoke through pregnancy. Irish and her family live 2 hours away. Her mother saw signs for the free surgeries that MMFC provides.
Dejay is a healthy 3 month old boy who was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. He is one of 4 children, but the only one with cleft deformities. There are instances of cleft lips and palates on his father’s side. Because of his young age, we will fix his cleft lip this year and have him return in 2018 or 2019 to fix his cleft palate. As a rule children need to be healthy, at least a year old, and 10Kg in order to have the cleft palate surgery.
Dejay’s family home is in Pangasinan, which is more than 3 hours away from Angeles City. He and his siblings live there with their Grandmother. Dianna, his mother, told me that she and DeJay’s father live and work on a watermelon plantation from Monday to Saturday here in Angeles City. They go home only on Sundays to see their family. Dianna cooks for the plantation workers and her husband works in the fields. They have been doing this for 13 years. The company provides free housing and a meal for their workers.
Pangasinan is a farming area and jobs are scarce. So, people need to find jobs elsewhere. This is not an uncommon practice. Dianna’s other children are 11, 8, and 4. She gets 2 months unpaid maternity leave when she gives birth. She and her husband have no paid vacations, although they can take some time off. She had permission from her boss to take today off because of Dejay’s surgery.
Dejay’s grandmother made the journey from Pangasinan to be here for the surgery. She carried Dejay into the Pre-Op because Dianna was afraid.
DeJay’s operation was successful and we will see him next year to fix his cleft palate.
Meet John Luke
John Luke is a 2 1/2 year old boy with Cleft lip and palate. He also had some chest congestion that turned out to be more severe than we initially thought. This year we fixed his cleft lip and we will followup next year by fixing his palate.
John is the 3rd of four children and the only one with cleft deformities. His mother is not aware of any other family member with a cleft lip or palate. They live in Angeles City, having moved there 8 years ago for a better life.
His father currently works as a security guard in the subdivision where they live. His mother stays home with the children. Prior to moving to Angeles City, John’s father was a farmer in the Province of Zamboanga Del Norte, which is in Mindanao, Philippines. They grew rice and fruits. Moving to Angeles City has provided a better life for the family.
John’s surgery was complicated by his chest congestion and needed multiple treatments with Albuterol prior and after surgery. About 40% of the children we saw this trip had coughs and/or chest congestion. This is common due to the poor air quality and lack of medical treatment.
John’s surgery was a success and we look forward to seeing him next year.
TJ is a 2 year old boy, who was born with a cleft lip and palate. Two years ago his cleft lip was fixed and this year we are repairing his cleft palate. We were scheduled to do the palate repair in 2016, but because he had a fever and congestion, it had to be postponed until this year. TJ has difficulty with his speech because of the cleft palate. In addition, when he sneezes with food in his mouth it comes out his nose. Typical issues for a child with a cleft palate. His cleft deformities come from his mother’s side of the family.
Modesta who is 65 is TJ’s grandmother. She takes care of him and his brothers. His mother abandoned TJ, his brothers, and father awhile ago. His mother took TJ’s sister with her. Apparently she found another man.
The family moved from Negros Occidental about a year ago. Negros Occidental is a province in the Philippines located in the Negros Island Region southeast of Manila. TJ’s father was a farmer, which is a hard life.
He brought the family to Angles City to find a better way of earning a living. They had previously travelled here to have TJ’s cleft lip repaired.
Today, TJ’s father works from home making barbells, while Modesto takes care of the 3 children.
Rhaine is 2 year old girl with cleft lip and palate. This year we will repair her lip and schedule her for palate repair next year. Her 19 year old mother, Myla, did not have prenatal care and took iron tablets during pregnancy. In addition, her father has cleft deformities on his side of the family.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are thought to be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as things the mother comes in contact with in her environment, or what the mother eats or drinks, or certain medications she uses during pregnancy.
Myla meet Rhaine’s father when she was 16 and he was 19. His parents would not allow him to marry Myla and they don’t accept Rhaine as their grandchild. They haven’t provided any support for her either. Myla doesn’t know where Rhaine’s father is at this time.
Myla moved from home about 4 months ago to earn more money in Angeles City and left Rhaine with her maternal grandmother. She works in a massage parlor and her housing is provided by her female boss. Myla is taking care of Rhaine while she is having surgery. Rhaine will soon be going back to her grandmothers about an hour away.
Meet Maria Ann
Maria Anne is a 3 month old girl with cleft lip and palate. She is small for her age, since she was underweight when she was born. Her biological mother became pregnant from a man other than her husband. The bio mother’s other children don’t know about Maria Anne. Apparently both the birth parents have cleft deformities in their families. This year, we will fix her cleft lip and if she’s healthy and weighs at least 20lbs next year, we will fix her cleft palate.
Meet Maria’s Mother
Annalyn and her husband have been trying to have children for the last 7 years. They live 2 hours away. Annalyn is a massage therapist and her husband is a construction worker. They were couple #2 in line for the adoption of Maria. After the Maria was born with cleft deformities, the couple said they didn’t want her. So, Annalyn and her husband adopted Maria. They didn’t care about cleft. Maria is a beautiful little girl to them. They saw the advertisement for MMFC’s Mission to Angeles City on a banner in their town.
Kudos to Annalyn and her husband.
Closing Words from Dr. Denny Snyder (Chairman MMFC):
This past week is living proof of what can be accomplished when all minds and all hearts have the same goal, focus, and intent.200+ children have a new life because of our work over this past week, which in every way is work that began the day we left Angeles in February last year. Judith Feliciano and Timothy Paul Llanos Dee began planning then, and their efforts since that time are immeasurable. None of what we accomplished this week would have been possible without each of you-the sacrifices and commitment and dedication reflect right back at all of us on the faces of children we are privileged to serve.And every thanks to Dr. Abbie Li Cheng, Peter Cheng, the Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation and Joy Venturini. Without your tremendous generosity, all the many beautiful children would still be waiting for help that may never arrive.
The MMFC team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, dentists, and non-medical volunteers from the U.S., Peru and Canada returned to Phalodi once again for its annual week-long surgical mission. The team arrived in Phalodi on Sunday evening, January 29th, and got to work evaluating a few kids preselected by the local hospital staff for surgery the next day.
On Monday, the team began screening all the kids and adults who had come in from the surrounding villages, one from as far as 200km away. The local hospital’s public relations officer Mr. Devi Singh, works diligently to spread the word months in advance so that the families can travel to Phalodi in time for our visit.
The team evaluated 40 already screened patients, and performed 23 surgical procedures. The dental team screened 125 patients and provided Dental Health and Hygiene education to 150 school children.
Every child we see touches our hearts. Shiv is one of them.
Shiv was a little 3 year boy who was found by the Mr. Devi Singh in 2011. The MMFC team evaluation found him to be anemic and unfit for surgery. They did a nutrition consult, instructing the family to follow up with the local hospital, and decided to reevaluate him the next year.
In 2012, Shiv returned to the hospital and underwent surgery to repair his cleft lip and palate. Shiv’s post-op recovery was unusually stressful – he cried for 24hrs straight. Upon further inquiry, the team found out that his parents had been giving him opium to keep him calm. His little body was going through withdrawals. After his surgery, Shiv was lost to follow up for the next 2yrs.
In 2014, after an extensive search by Dr. Jain and Mr. Singh, Shiv returned to the hospital to be evaluated by the MMFC team. They discovered that he had been abandoned by his parents and was being cared for by his maternal grandmother and Uncle. They also saw that his prior cleft repair had fallen apart. Shiv needed to undergo surgery again but was not fit at that time. The team provided a nutritional consult and recommended follow up with the local doctor.
Shiv did not show up at the hospital for the 2015 mission visit. In 2016 once again, the Mr. Singh conducted an extensive search and located him in time for the 2017 mission visit. Shiv was admitted into hospital two weeks prior to the visit. During screening, the team found him in good health and ready for surgery.
His surgery was very complex that it required, not only all entire surgical team on the ground, but it included a live interactive video conference with Dr. Dennis Snyder back in Boston. This is the first time MMFC has use real time, interactive technology to collaborate across continents.
Shiv is now a healthier 8yr old, outgoing, engaging, unafraid of the team doctors, with quite the flare for fashion. Shiv’s success would not have been possible without the generosity of Helpers and Joy Venturini Bianchi.
It is never too late to change one’s look – Meet Kabu Ram
Kabu Ram is a 28 year old father of three. Mr. Sing noticed in him 5 years ago and invited him to visit the hospital for an evaluation during one of the mission visits. Due to family and work commitments, Mr. Ram kept postponing his evaluation.
Mr. Singh’s persistence paid off and this year Mr. Ram took 2 days off work and came into to see the teams. His procedure took 45 minutes and per his wishes, he was able to keep his mustache and tooth.
In the recovery room, when he woke up and saw himself in the mirror for the first time, he cried. In 48 hours he had a new look and we gave him a new smile.
Despite the arduous journey to get to Phalodi, the success of our mission here is due to the stellar team and the very strong 10 year partnership with Dr. Kanti Jain, her family, H.B.S Trust Hospital and all the preparation done by the dedicated local hospital staff.
We look forward to continuing our work with the children of Rajasthan the years to come.
They come from far away, so many of the patients and their families; they are weary and perhaps afraid. They are in line and waiting; for some, perhaps an adventure, for others, undoubtedly a hardship. A few of them we have seen before, but so many this year are first timers. The team screens baby after baby, a few with cleft lip only, likely requiring a single surgery. Many more have complete cleft lip and cleft palate, or microtia (congenital absence of the outer ear), so their surgical journey is just beginning. All of the children are weighed and examined, parents questioned (sometimes requiring multiple translations), team members consulted (surgery, cardiology, anesthesia, primary care nursing, dentistry and speech therapy). Fortunately, almost no one is turned away. The schedule is set; four operating rooms will work non-stop this week, as will the PACU (recovery). The dentists and therapist will have dozens of children to see, procedures to complete and instructions to give. It will be a busy 5 days.
9–13 Enero (January) 2017
Every day is both the same and very different; the patients are brought into pre-op by the very capable and efficient staff of Hermano Perdro hospital. Often, the children are crying from hunger, fear or sheer boredom. The mothers save their tears until one of the MMFC anesthesiology professionals comes to bring their child in to surgery. This is the when the cross cultural barriers break down; a hug, an arm squeeze or a simple “esta bien” (“it’s OK”) coming from a stranger from another land reveals how we are much more alike than different.
What the parents don’t see is the incredible skill of that same anesthesiologist/nurse anesthetist prepping that child for surgery and the finesse of the surgeons’ work to undo the hand that this family has been dealt. They don’t see the efficiency of the operating room nurses to have everything sterile and ready, nor the details in caring for and compassion with which the PACU nurses care while this child is recovering from all of the above. They don’t see the post- op orders written by the MMFC nurse practitioner, nor can they likely absorb the information given to them by the speech therapist until much later. Post-operatively, all this parent sees is that their child is alive and well (albeit not very happy), and that the professionals are smiling. And that their baby’s face looks more “normal” somehow under those steri –strips. And that everything is going to be OK, going to be better. Life is good.
The Boston contingency of Charlie Badaoui, Pacifico Tuason, Sandra Klein, Natalie Harris, Roberta Anslow, and Theresa Lynch, met at Logan at 10:30pm 2/10. Our flight to Manila left at 1:30AM 2/11. Smooth travels to Hong Kong (16 hours), then onto Manila (2 hours). After getting thru customs with all the medical bags and pelican cases, we were anxious to get to Angeles City to unpack and shower. What should have been a 2 hour (max) drive out of the city and north to AC, turned out to be a close to 5 hour journey. The traffic was unbelievable.
Day 2 Screening:
Today we head to the hospital and will be screen children for surgery. We’ve been told that there are 40 – 50 children read to be screened. It turns out there were closer to 80 children. Screening is almost a full day event. It’s 20 mins to the hospital and then we need to set up. The children waiting for us and anxious. At the end of the process and the day we have a schedule for surgeries for the following days.
Day 3 Surgery Begins:
Zairone is almost two and has a cleft lip and palate. This year we will repair his lip and next year his palate.
Zairone and his family live near to the hospital. He has a brother who is six. There is a history of cleft lip and palate on his mother side. His parents heard about the surgery from a neighbor whose child we repaired last year.
Even at just 2 years old, Zairone is being bullied by kids in the neighborhood and his brother’s friends. When Zairone drinks milk it comes out his nose because of his cleft palate.
Zairone’s father is a construction worker (day laborer), when there isn’t any construction work, he goes down to the market to see if there is a need for heavy lifting.
His father started to cry, telling me “When there is no work, I can’t feed my family”.
Alfredo is 54 and an unusual case for MMFC. We are an organization dedicated to helping children, but on a rare occasion an adult will reach out to us. Such is the case with Alfredo. He saw our billboards in Angeles City announcing our mission dates and found the courage to come to screening day. You see, Alfredo has had offers to have his cleft lip and palate fixed before, but he has been afraid of the surgery. Why now? He finally got tired of the ridicule that he receives on a daily basis. He is a construction worker and his fellow workers stare at him, then laugh behind his back making rude remarks.
For the first time in many years, Esperance can finally sleep without a large 3.6 pound ball crushing her esophagus. Her goiter has been growing in her neck for over 20 years. This beautiful Wednesday morning in Gitwe, MMFC had the pleasure of checking in with Esperance to see how she was feeling and healing. Many of the patients who come to get thyroid surgery travel over a day by bus and foot to get to the Gitwe hospital for a chance at surgery. The majority of the patients are women, like Esperance, but there are also some men.
When asked how her large growth affected her productivity, she said it made her feel tired and caused her headaches, neck aches, and shoulder aches. She had trouble sleeping at night, since it felt like she was being choked by this massive goiter. The goiter also made her labor much more difficult, having to take many breaks while farming. Since the lifestyle is mainly agriculture for self sustenance as well as trading and selling, being unable to work or having low productivity severely affects the patient’s lives.
Esperance is one of the many whose life has been changed on this trip. She is extremely pleased with the result of her surgery. Take a look for yourself at the before and after images!
Monday was a great day of surgery for the doctors of MMFC. Although the need for cleft surgeries is low, Drs. Aric Park, Merry Sebelik, and Jeremiah Tracy were hard at work with some slightly complicated cleft lip surgeries. Usually, babies with cleft palates have difficulty eating and breastfeeding. They are often malnourished not for lack of food, but rather because the openings in their lips constantly leak food and liquids. This is why often times babies with cleft lips–especially with two openings rather than one–are much slimmer than babies with no clefts. You can imagine the happiness of not only the nurses and doctors, but also the mother when the little babies wake up from their surgery in the recovery room and are able to finally latch on to the breast and feed. This was the case with little 8 month old Lea.
Lea and her mother had been waiting all day through the other cleft lip surgeries. The hallway was filled with the screams and cries of the little girl who was frustrated she was not allowed to eat before her surgery. Her worried mother skeptically followed directions, since she had seen other cases and babies delayed because they had eaten to close to their surgery time and it was unsafe to induce their anesthesia. The surgery went smoothly, and an hour and half later baby was in mom’s arms desperately searching for the comfort and nourishment of her breast. The smile on the mother’s face was priceless, “this is the first time she has been able to latch on”. We were all watching in peaceful attentiveness as the baby settled into a rhythmic suckling, completely forgetting about the pain as she finally satisfied her hunger.
Not all babies latch on so quickly and easily, others have difficulty using their newly sealed lips because they have never had to use the muscle. Eventually, they will learn how to gain control of the muscles around their mouth and have an easier time feeding.
As mentioned in the previous post, most of the patients that made the long journey from their homes miles away were here to get Goiter surgery. As the messages reached further (whether through radio or word of mouth), more and more patients poured into the room. The most remarkable moment is one picture below where women swarmed Dr. Dhingra and Dr. Sebelik asking to feel their necks in the hopes of being one of the lucky ones to be selected to have surgery. Unfortunately, time, supplies and manpower are limits to how many surgeries can be done. No matter how quickly and efficiently the talented surgeons can work, there is no way they can perform over 50 surgeries in a little under three days. For now the goal is to keep working through as many cases as possible… so far we have had 15 successful surgeries! There are still three days left, stay tuned…
Days 1 & 2 – Sat., October 8th and Sun., October 9th:
After almost 24 hours of flying, we finally arrived in Kigali, Rwanda. This would not be our final destination, but for many, our first welcome to Africa. On the ride down to Gitwe, we would hear the happy shouts of the children pointing and screaming “muzungu!!”, meaning “white person” or “wanderer/foreigner”. Never had I seen children with smiles so big, happy to just say hello. Their warm smiles decorated their dark brown faces of the earth, and they, in turn, decorated the brown earth they walked on. They seemed to be one with their surrounding, fluidly strolling between one another on the sides of the dirt roads while cars and motorcycles sped by. Women carried anything on their heads—large pieces of wood, stalks of sugar cane, bags of beans— with their children strapped to their backs. They complemented the warm orange hue of the concrete homes with tin roofs and the lively green of the palm trees, shrubs and bushes all around.
Saturday night was when we first entered the empty rooms that would be our reconstructive and healing spaces for the next 6 days. Immediately, the team began opening the bags and pelicans filled with supplies, medication, and equipment and setting up their stations-P.A.C.U., O.R., Pre-Op, Anesthesia, Thyroid, Cleft. The dusty empty rooms quickly began to fill with noise and movement, starting to resemble the rooms of a hospital. Shortly after, the patients began to arrive. This was the first and only sign of haste in this region where time does not seem to be a part of their lifestyle. We went down to meet the women with enlarged thyroids and children with cleft deformity. Unfortunately, some of the little “umwanas” (babies) were too small or too sick to be seen this time around. We relied on the translators to relay the difficult message to the mothers, who would shoot dissapointed and pleading looks the doctors way, not quite understanding that sometimes rejection for surgery was really for the well being and survival of their child. Giggles and small talk ensued between those who would stay, their smiles a clear sign of the happiness for the victory of all their efforts. Most of the cases done by MMFC in Rwanda, however, are largely thyroidectomies. Many of the patients that filled the waiting rooms were women in their mid twenties to late fifties with enlarged goiters on one side or the other. Each one in their colorful “ibitenges” or traditional dresses and wraps. Their eyes showed a mixture of fear and hope—fearful of what was to come, but hopeful that their lives would return back to normal.
What is a goiter, what causes it, and why do people have it removed? A goiter is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid. Our thyroids play a very important role in our bodies. By using iodine, a trace mineral, the thyroid produces hormones that play an important role in regulating our metabolism, temperature, and heart rate. Goiters are usually cased by lack or deficiency of iodine in a diet or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Goiters can obstruct breathing and swallowing and cause shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness. If linked with hypo- or hyperthyroid, goiters could cause other health problems. Therefore, a thyroidectomy is an important part of maintaining the health and improving the morbidity of the patient. Not to mention, these ladies will have yet another reason to smile a little bigger each day.
We have a surgery packed day today! So far 3 scheduled cleft lips and 6 scheduled partial thyroidectomies… Let the healing begin!
June 25-July 2, 2016: Our team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and administrators returned to Antigua for another week of cleft surgeries and dental care. By the end of the mission, the MMFC team had completed 39 cleft surgeries and provided dental care to 25 special needs adults.
Meet mi amigo, Abelito:
Douglas Abel Riveria Huit (“Abelito”) is a 2yr old boy who traveled four hours with his mom to be seen by our MMFC team. He needed palate surgery and was very scared.
Abelito had previously had his cleft lip repaired by another team, and was here for a palate repair. His grandmother and 4year old sister were at home eagerly awaiting to see him. They were so pleased with the transformation after his lip surgery, and heard that our team could further improve his life by fixing his palate. While nervous, they also had confidence in our MMFC team. Abelito on the other hand, not so much. He was scared, shy, and didn’t want to talk to anyone. So we played with some toys and drew pictures in the pre-op room. And after coloring for a bit, he called me his amiga and gave me a high-five. His mom told me he likes to be called “Abelito” by friends and family, and I had made it into that circle. The surgeons and nurses took good care of Abelito, just as they did with each and every patient. It’s amazing to watch them work and witness their dedication and care to each child. This is a team that goes over and above to improve the lives of others.
Massachusetts-based nonprofit, Medical Missions for Children, and the San Francisco-based Hellman Foundation have partnered to send Google Chromebooks to medical students at the new Medical College of the Institut Superieur Pedagogique de Gitwe (ISPG) in Rwanda, Africa. For several years, the Hellman Foundation has served as a strategic partner for Medical Missions for Children and the Gitwe Hospital. During the past three years, the Hellman Foundation has expanded its philanthropy to support the new Medical College. The current project will compliment broader initiatives in Gitwe and as Mission Team leader Andrew Patterson explains “The ultimate goal is to empower Rwandan health care workers in providing more effective medical care in a resource-limited environment.”
The Chromebooks being provided will allow medical students at ISPG to access online textbooks, take tests via Google form, and expandtheir resources exponentially. Additionally, the team installed a wireless computer system which allows access to educational content even wheninternet access is disrupted. To further maximize efficiency, the technology director at ISPG, traveled to California to receive training at both Stanford University as well as Google headquarters. The Hellman Foundation The Hellman Foundation is a private foundation established in 2011. Our approach to giving is rooted in the belief that philanthropy has an important role to play in solving problems and improving the well-being of our communities. We also believe that foundations have a responsibility to do their homework, assuming this role with integrity and intelligence. At the Hellman Foundation, we take this responsibility seriously. Since its founding, the Foundation has awarded over $25 million in grants. Medical Missions for Children (MMFC) Founded 24 years ago, MMFC began by traveling to one country and helping a handful of children.
Today, MMFC conducts close to 20 missions a year, operating on over 25,000 children and providing dental care for more than 50,000. Medical Mission’s network of close to 350 volunteer doctors, dentists and nurses travel to hard-to-reach areas, which typically do not have any healthcare infrastructure and perform free medical procedures which resolve health complications, speech impediments, and most importantly brings a better standard of living and happiness to the children and their families. The children who receive these surgeries are given the opportunity to stay in school and become productive members of the community. To learn more about the work that
Medical Missions does visit MMFC.org or call us at (508) 697-5821.
From November 22-December 1, 2013, MMFC’s team of 18 volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, speech pathologists, and administrators returned to Cajamarca, Peru for a week of cleft surgeries and dental care.
In one week the team completed 46 surgical procedures, including repairs of 14 primary cleft lips, 8 primary cleft palates, and 5 lip revisions. In addition, 145 dental procedures were done, including 11 under general anesthesia. Our speech therapist gave 16 speech therapy sessions as well as 43 consults.
One of the most interesting patient stories from this week was of Maria Angelina and Magali Davila (below). Magali is Maria’s niece, and they are both from Bolivar. It took them four days to travel to Cajamarca, including a day and a half of walking. Maria’s brother (Magali’s father) joined them on the journey to Es Salud hospital in Cajamarca. Magali is in her first year of primary school. Unlike Magali, Maria is mentally challenged, has never gone to school, and does not know how to read or write. They live in a very rural community where outside communication is limited, and even a telephone signal in rare. They found out about MMFC’s mission from a radio broadcast and decided to make the long trek together. Maria and Magali both received surgery to repair their bilateral cleft lips, making the journey to Cajamarca all worth it.
MMFC would like to thank the Helpers of the Mentally Retarded and the Hess Foundation for their donations toward this mission.
From November 1-10, 2013, MMFC sent a 15-person team of volunteers to Tacloban, located on the Leyte island of the Philippines. Working alongside the staff at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC) and the Maharlika Foundation, the team had a full schedule of cleft patients planned for the week.
Led by Drs. Arnold Lee and Pratik Pradhan, the first day of surgeries went off without a hitch, but on Tuesday morning the team learned of a typhoon headed straight for the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan was gaining strength by the hour and the coastal city of Tacloban was expected to be one of the hardest-hit areas. By Tuesday afternoon the tough decision was made to cut the mission short, and tickets were purchased for the next available flight out of Tacloban. MMFC couldn’t take the risk that came with riding out this storm, which was so strong that it didn’t even fall under any of the existing hurricane or typhoon categories.
The MMFC team finished as many surgeries as possible before the end of the day Wednesday, packed up supplies and equipment, and flew out on Thursday morning on the last flight to Manila before all others were cancelled. In three days the team repaired 12 cleft lips and 7 cleft palates – a great accomplishment, especially given the added stress of the typhoon.
MMFC plans to return to Leyte, but it will take time for the needed infrastructure to be rebuilt. The EVRMC was the only functioning medical facility following the typhoon, but it still sustained significant damage.
Our thoughts are with all those who were affected by the typhoon, and we look forward to returning soon.
From October 12th to 20th, MMFC’s 26-person team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, dentists, nutritionists, and non-medical volunteers from the U.S. and England returned to Quito once again for its annual week-long surgical mission. In five days the team completed 10 cleft palate repairs, 1 cleft lip repair, 7 palate revisions, 2 lip revisions, 4 rhinoplasties, and 26 scar revisions. The dental team also operated on 22 patients.
With such a large team and diverse patient population, our Quito team is able to provide a wide variety of surgeries aside from solely cleft repairs. No matter what kind of surgery the patients received, it will have a profound impact on their lives.
These are just a few examples.
Damiza is a 5 year old girl who came to MMFC with a keloid on her left forearm, which she had as a result of a bad burn. The keloid caused her terrible itching, and removal of the scar tissue would relieve this. During examination on the day before surgery, Damiza was crying and complaining of tooth pain. The dentist discovered a dental abscess, so arrangements were made with the surgery team and on the following day when she went into the OR, the dental team performed a tooth extraction and drainage of the abscess while the surgeons excised the scar. The following morning Damiza was smiling, feeling betting with no tooth pain, and happy to know that the scar was gone and that the surgical incision would heal to a fine line. Her mother was very grateful and appreciative of the care provided as well as the attention she and her daughter received.
Sofia Zoullas is 16 years old and lives in New York City. She attends the Chapin school as an 11th grader, and this past June she got to do something that most teenagers don’t get to experience; She participated in MMFC’s mission to Antigua, Guatemala as a junior volunteer, taking all of the pre-op and post-op photos and collecting stories of some of the children she met.
MMFC sends a mission to Antigua, Guatemala two times each year. On June 22-29, our team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and administrators returned for another week of cleft surgeries and dental care. By the end of the five operating days, the MMFC team had completed 34 cleft surgeries and provided dental care to 21 children.
Thanks to the dedication and generosity of our volunteers, donors, and the Hermano Pedro Hospital in Antigua for opening its doors to us, these children received life-changing operations that they normally would not be able to afford. These are just a few of those children.
Juan Carlos Utuye
Juan Carlos is an 11-month old from Media Luna, about 5 hours away from Antigua. The youngest of four children, he was born with a bilateral cleft lip, and his mother brought him to MMFC’s mission with hopes of having it repaired. Juan Carlos’s mother heard about MMFC through an organization in the region that has an outreach program for children in need of cleft lip and/or cleft palate surgery. With his deformity, Juan Carlos required a lot of extra time and attention from his mother, who has three other children to care for. The surgery that Juan Carlos received was the first stage of his cleft lip repair; when it is complete, it will not only life-changing for him, but also life-changing for his entire family.
Santos Moises Lajpop
Santos is a 1 and a 1/2 year old boy, born with a unilateral cleft lip. He lives with his parents and four siblings in Momostenango, about 5 hours away from Antigua. After learning about MMFC at a local clinic, Santos came with his father to have his cleft lip repaired. Before he received surgery, Santos had a difficult time eating and as a result is malnourished – a common problem among children with cleft deformities. Now, with his lip fixed, he will live a much healthier and happier life.
Sebastian is 6 months old and comes from Rincon de los Leones, about 5 hours away from Antigua. He is the youngest of four children. His mother heard about MMFC through the organization Asociación Compañero para la Cirugia, which advertises for us in local clinics. With his severe deformity, Sebastian would not have been able to live a normal life. He had trouble eating, and the local community blamed his mother for his cleft lip. Now his mother will be able to take better care of him and his siblings.
Esmerelda is 16 years old, and was born with a cleft lip and palate. She is one of ten children and just had her lip repaired two years ago. Her neighbor made the nearly 12-hour journey from Tacana with her this year to have her palate repaired, since her parents had to work and take care of her siblings. For the 14 years before her lip was repaired, Esmerelda never left her house – not even to go to school. She couldn’t speak well and was afraid of being teased for her deformity. Now that her palate has been repaired by the MMFC team, she is another step closer to having a more normal life. She now hopes to improve her speech through therapy.
Cusco, Peru is one of MMFC’s longest-running missions. This year, with Dr. Helen John-Kelly as the team leader, we returned from June 14th to 23rd with a 24 person team of doctors, nurses, speech pathologists, volunteers, and administrative staff, ready for a busy week of cleft, microtia, and dental surgeries.
By Saturday afternoon most of the team had arrived. With Cusco’s elevation being over 11,000 feet, altitude sickness is a big concern, so in order to avoid having any sick team members, Sunday is a day of rest on this mission, a low-key day to acclimate to the altitude. Many team members went to the Sunday market in Pisac to get their souvenir shopping done early. With so many first-timers on this trip, there was a lot of nervousness and plenty of questions, but everyone was excited and anxious to get to work.
The team arrived at the EsSalud hospital on Monday full of energy and focus, and was welcomed by a lobby jam-packed with patients and their families waiting to be screened. This was screening day – always the most hectic day of the week on any mission, but especially so with such a large team. Thanks to careful planning and coordination with local staff, the team screened over 100 cleft, microtia, and dental patients in just a few hours, and by that evening MMFC had all of its cases scheduled for the rest of the week.
Throughout the course of the four operating days, using two operating rooms, the MMFC team completed surgeries on 13 microtia patients, 16 cleft patients, and 25 dental patients. Those numbers did not come easily, though; the days were long (12-16 hours!) and exhausting. But thanks to everyone’s hard work, we were able to help many beautiful and deserving children.
Saul is a 12 year old boy who lives with his parents three hours outside of Cusco. He was born with moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to not be able to form any facial expressions, which play a huge role in our daily interaction with the world around us. This year, our surgical team successfully completed a thigh muscle graft on Saul. This was the first of this type of surgery for MMFC, and the biggest reward is that now Saul can finally smile.
Rommel is two months old and lives with his parents in Anta, a town about an hour away from Cusco. When he was born, the doctor told his parents about MMFC’s annual Cusco mission and suggested they bring Rommel to repair his cleft lip. Our team operated on Rommel on Tuesday, and his parents were so thrilled with the result that they wanted Dr. John-Kelly to be their son’s godmother! Rommel’s father is a driver, and he even offered to drive our team around when we return next year. This is a terrific example of how MMFC’s commitment to its mission sites, and the fact that we return annually, allows local physicians to refer patients to us that could not otherwise afford a cleft surgery. They know from year to year when we will be returning and more important, that we will return.
Sebastian and Luciano Ripa
Sebastian and Luciano are four-year-old twin brothers. They were both born with a cleft lip – one with a bilateral cleft and the other with a unilateral cleft – and they had both come to MMFC’s Cusco mission in prior years to have those repaired. This year, they returned to receive dental care and have palatal obturators fitted. No one likes going to the dentist, especially if it means having teeth pulled, but these two boys seemed to always be smiling. We love to see past patients return – especially when they have a smile on their face!
Cesar celebrated his 18th birthday while recovering from surgery to repair his primary microtia.
Zoraida, three months old, received surgery to repair her unilateral cleft lip.
Our mission to Cusco was a success once again, and it would not have been possible without so many different groups of people working together to make it happen – MMFC is extremely grateful to EsSalud for welcoming us into their facilities, to Edouard Ruelle and the Children of Peru Foundation for their generous sponsorship of the mission, to our wonderful local coordinators Ani Forsyth, Patty Galup, and Susana Mayer, and especially to this year’s team of extremely hard-working and dedicated volunteers.
Mary Beth Hagey is a docent for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and a board member of a private foundation awarding scholarships to students demonstrating outstanding service in their communities and academic excellence. For the past 25 years, Mary Beth has been an active volunteer for the local schools (room mother to PTA President), in her community (scout leader, coach and mentor), as well as on a global level (participated in and organized the AIDS Walk Africa for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation). The “Greg Feldman, MD, Memorial Surgical Mission to Rwanda” is Mary Beth’s first trip with MMFC.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
“Muraho, Odette. May I take your photo?” all the while pantomiming with my camera. My Kinyarwanda vocabulary is limited to a few pleasantries. I needn’t have worried though. Her infectious smile lights the room; words seem unnecessary. The goiter on Odette’s neck resembles a lumpy grapefruit. With the help of a local interpreter, I come to understand that Odette and her younger sister have walked for 3 days to Gitwe Hospital in hopes that she will be selected to have this life changing surgery performed by American doctors and nurses donating their time and skill with Medical Mission for Children. She made this identical trek last year, but by the time she arrived, the schedule was already filled. Her enthusiasm and gratitude are palpable. Odette recounts her difficulty breathing when she carries her burdens on her head as well as when she sleeps. Odette asks to see her “before” photo as I head for the door. She wants to remember what she used to look like. Somehow I think she will be excited to see the “after” photo as well.
Nearly a decade ago, MMFC established a relationship with the Kalapurnam General Hospital after meeting its director, Dr. Kanti Jain. Since establishing a cleft lip and palate clinic, MMFC teams have returned to the hospital every year and sometimes twice in a year. To learn more about the extraodinary efforts and life of the hospital’s director Dr. Kanti, please read the featured magazine article below from the February 4, 2007 edition of The Week that highlights her valiant dream of helping the poor and downtrodden of rural Rajasthan.
The Journey Begins, July 30, 2015
Medical teams from the East coast, West coast, Colorado, and Georgia converge in Istanbul and begin the two day journey to Delhi then onto Jodhpur, and finally, a three-hour van ride to Phalodi.
Arrival in Phalodi, August 2, 2015
Check in with patients and meet with local medical professionals.
Surgery & Patient Care, Aug. 3-6, 2015
The team awoke early Monday morning, fueled up with spice-infused masala chai, and headed over to the hospital on foot. We were greeted with a waiting room full of children and vibrant colors. The morning was filled with patient screenings as the doctors checked to see which children were ready for surgery. Nurse Natalie and Doctor Gary prepped the OR while Nurse Terri got to work setting up the PACU. A brief meeting was held to decide the week’s surgery schedule, and then the doctors and nurses were off!
The first surgery began a little after 11AM and involved a toddler who was having a cleft lip repaired. It was followed by two more lip surgeries on a five-month old baby and a six-year old boy. The temperatures here are hot and humid due to it being monsoon season. The operating room started out cool in the morning thanks to a hard-working air conditioner, but the OR’s many machines and devices caused the circuits to trip and the doctors were forced to go without A/C as the day wore on.
By 5:30 the surgeries had wrapped up, and the sweat drenched docs headed to the ward to check on their patients. Relieved moms and dads cuddled with their children and the local night-shift nurses took over care of the patients.
Tuesday in Phalodi, August 4, 2015
Lots of little ones in the OR today—some were there for the first time and others, like Jagdish, were returning from previous years for follow-up surgeries. Despite the stifling heat, the recovery ward was full of content children and parents.
An interesting practice here at the hospital is how they distinguish between male and female patients. The title “Baby” is used to designate female pediatric patients, and the title “Master” is used to designate male pediatric patients.
Master Chandaveer’s parents were especially grateful for his care. While in the recovery ward, his father called me to his son’s bedside and requested that his picture be taken with a thumbs up. The family traveled from a village over two hours away using a variety of transportation modes including auto rickshaws and busses packed with passengers. In this sweltering heat, the journey is even more taxing.
The patients will stay in the ward all week so the nurses and doctors can continue monitoring their recovery. The children sleep on the hospital beds, and their parents sleep on the cool marble floor on either side of the bed—they use no mats or sheets. The nurses report that these children are amazingly easy going and are a delight to work with!
Farwell Assembly, Aug. 7, 2015
Hospital Director, Dr. Kanti Jain holds a ceremony to honor the patients, families, doctors, nurses, and hopsital employees who made the week a success. The MMFC team returns to Jodphur.
A group of nine team members traveled on a long 24 hour journey to Rwanda, Africa. The group spent the next morning setting up the operating and recovery rooms while simultaneously triaging patients. By the early afternoon, the Kibagabaga Hospital was set up and the teams had screened numerous potential patients for the early part of the week.In total, we screened about 15 individuals in the morning. Two were unfortunately turned away, one for a pregnancy and one for high blood pressure, but they remain strong candidates for surgery next year. After a few hours working through the language barrier with the aid of interpreters and local patients with English understanding, we narrowed down a list of patients for the next few days.The afternoon’s agenda consisted of two surgeries. The first patient, a beautiful young 22 year old woman from Kigali, named Patricia, got the group off to a great start with a very successful surgery.
Surgery Day Two Sunday March 16, 2015
Day two started with a beautiful sunrise and a jog around Kigali for a couple members of the team. With the patients already screened the night before, the team got right into pre-op procedures upon entry into the hospital.
A group of residents followed the team around today, learning and actively participating in the surgeries. These people proved very valuable, especially in dealing with the language barrier between our group and the locals. The team was able to perform five surgeries, although delayed throughout the day by instrument sterilization.
Each patient carries their own unique backstory and personality. Nyiraregwa is the mother of eleven children and has worked on a farm her entire life. This was her first time going to the doctors. Her positive energy filled the hospital and she soon gathered and entertained a group of women around her in the pre-op room.
Surgery Day Three Sunday March 17, 2015
Day three proved to be very busy here for the team. With a schedule full of patients, we grabbed an early breakfast at 6 and went straight to the hospital to start work.More residents and local nurses came to observe and learn in the OR today. A Swedish medical school student and a Swedish doctor, conducting research in Kigali for a few months, joined us to observe surgeries in the morning. In addition, the two residents from yesterday remained with us along with local two anesthesia techs, and a nursing student.
As word spread about our procedures here, more potential patients journeyed to the hospital to be examined. Madaline and I continued to triage individuals, with the help of Dr. Nkurunziza. In total, another twenty potential surgical patients remain on the waiting list for the remainder of the week, with more expected to come in tomorrow. Madaline joked as we screened these patients, asking if we could stay three more weeks instead of just three more days. That’s one of the hardest parts of the trip, not being able to perform surgeries on all of the well-deserving people that come here. We’re just touching the surface on the people we can help here
Surgery Day Four and Five Sunday March 18-19, 2015
Finally settling in to a consistent sleep schedule, the team arrived at breakfast well rested and ready to go. The local media joined us today, interested in seeing our work here and the great results from yesterday’s surgeries. The news coverage brought in a flow of more people interested in receiving the medical treatment so many desperately need.
A boy named Christian and his mother arrived today, the youngest boy we’ve seen by far at just four years-old.
After another long day of operating the team had conducted 19 surgeries thus far, and headed home to enjoy some native dancing and food.
A driver of wheat from Tanzania to Rwanda, David was one of the kindest and most professional patients we dealt with. After about an hour and a half in the operating room, he emerged with rest results. Hours later, after he woke up from the anesthesia and felt strong enough to return to his family, I stopped over to visit him one last time. With tears in his eyes, he grabbed my hand and muttered a humble ‘thank you.’ Little moments like those almost brought me to my knees at the work we were doing here. In just a short time, we were able to change the lives of so many deserving people and their families, and it was humbling to see how much it meant to them.
While the last few surgeries went on, Vianney and I continued to screen more and more patients. Another 20 people showed up on our last day of surgery, all unable to receive our help until next year. This was one of the hardest and heartbreaking things to do. It was hard to believe the full week had gone by and I would have to leave these amazing people and beautiful country.
Overall, the team blew me away with all of their work and selflessness throughout the trip. Each person gave up vacation time to travel across the world, working extremely hard in tough conditions to make a difference in other people’s lives. I’m humbled to be part of such an incredibly gifted and caring team. When asked about my favorite or most memorable part of the trip, I respond without question that it was the people. From the doctors and nurses on our team, to the staff at our hotel, to the patients and their families, I was in constant awe of how truly amazing these people are.
This year marked the sixteenth mission in Quito, Ecuador. During the “sweet 16” mission, the MMFC team saw a number of new and repeat patients for follow up surgeries. They screened over 145 medical and 50 dental patients, conducted 72 surgeries, provided dental care to 36 special needs patients, and fitted 3 children with hearing aids. It’s amazing to see the impact MMFC has over the course of the week, let alone sixteen years. The children and families of Ecuador along with MMFC doctors, nurses, volunteers, and staff are grateful to the Alvarez, Dassum, and Barrera families for their continued support of the Quito mission since 1998.
Meet some of this year’s patients…
Jefferson Parco Guadalupe (12 yr) & Keila Valeria Alvarado Guadalupe (4 yr)
A brother and sister returned to MMFC this year, both for lip surgery. Over the years, Jefferson has had 5 surgeries and Keila has had 3. They traveled over 5 hours from their home town of Napo to be seen by the MMFC doctors. After seeing how the MMFC team was able to help Jefferson, their mother was not worried once Keila was born with the same deformities as her brother. Jefferson, Keila and their family are grateful for the care provided by MMFC which has allowed them to be accepted within their society. Without MMFC, neither child would have received the surgeries they needed.
Esteban Issac Quimbita Pucha (2 yr)
During this mission, Esteban had surgery to repair his lip. MMFC had also operated on his palate during a previous mission. When Esteban was born, his mom was scared when she first saw his cleft lip and palate deformities. It was something she had never experienced before with her other child. After seeing that MMFC could treat his condition, his mother was relieved. She and her family are grateful to MMFC for bringing a smile to Esteban’s face. They are thankful to the team of doctors and nurses for returning each year to provide care for her son and many other children in Ecuador.
Robert Alexander Tipan Masabanda (9 yr)
Robert is another patient that has received various care from MMFC over the years. This year, Robert had another surgery to repair his lip along with a tooth extraction. He was also one of the children who was fitted with hearing adds during this mission. Robert and his mother have gotten to know the doctors and nurses over the years and are appreciative for the consistent and quality care they’ve received.
On July 18th the MMFC team of volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentist, and nurses headed to Tanzania for another two-week mission providing free cleft surgeries and dental care, working alongside the wonderful staff at the CCBRT hospital in Dar Es Salaam.
Thanks to the generosity of 14 year old Tori Cargill of Beverly Farms, MA, the biggest winner of all at MMFC’s 17thannual charity golf tournament turned out to be a young girl who has never once in her life seen a golf course.
But 12 year old Jackline Lukinga, who lives in a small and impoverished village some 8,000 miles away in a remote corner of Tanzania, knows just how lucky she is.
And so does her family.
Two years ago, in the summer of July 2012, Tori spent two weeks with MMFC’s surgical team in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and during that time Tori bonded with over 40 children who where in desperate need of medical care. For long hours every day, Tori taught the children about music, art and dancing — and perhaps most of all, she comforted these frightened and terribly sick children both before and after their surgeries.
One of those children she comforted and cared for was Jackline, who was ten years old at the time.
However, when Jackline was admitted to the hospital two summers ago, a bronchial infection forced the cancellation of her planned cleft lip surgery. Jackline was treated with antibiotics and sent home four days later, her family heartbroken and despondent.
But now fast forward to June 23 of this year, when over 600 golf balls were dropped from a helicopter and onto the 18th fairway at Marshfield Country Club in MMFC’s first ever ‘golf ball drop’ contest. The numbered golf ball nearest the marker belonged to Tori Cargill, who was about to make Jackline one very lucky girl.
Now what would you do if you were 14 years old, your pocket suddenly several hundred dollars heavier?
Spend a day shopping for clothes, perhaps?
Find a jewel or two to sparkle around your neck or wrist?
Maybe even a watch for all to envy.
Would you be tempted?
Tori was tempted alright…tempted to do exactly one thing: to donate her winnings towards the 2014 Tanzania mission so she could sponsor Jackline’s cleft lip surgery.
You can see the difference this surgery has made, and will continue to make, in Jackline’s life. When she first saw herself after surgery was complete, she couldn’t stop looking at her new smile in the mirror and saying how happy she was. This will, in many ways, be life changing for her.
Jackline wasn’t the only one to receive life-changing surgery — there were many other just like her, ranging from babies to adults who had lived with their deformity for far too long.
The team is now back home in the US, but there will be many more stories like this when we return to Tanzania next year. Thanks to MMFC”s many supporters, the CCBRT hospital for welcoming us, and mission sponsor Margie Rotchford of Saratoga, NY for making this mission a huge success.