I’m often asked about the craniofacial surgery mission trip that I have orchestrated in Lima, Peru for the past decade. How did that come about? Why Peru? What happens down there? Don’t children in the United States need treatment? Why go all the way to Peru when there are so many children in our own country who need surgery? Why not help our own children?
The truth is that while many children in the Unites States do, indeed, need treatment, virtually none go without necessary surgery for congenital craniofacial disorders because there are many centers around our country that are capable of providing the needed sophisticated care for these children. I treat many children with complex disorders and clefts for free in my practice in Chicago and many of my colleagues around the country do the same thing. There is no shortage of care for such children in our country. In other parts of the world, however, that is not the case. In fact, there are many countries where there are minimal or no resources to provide the needed surgery for many children who, as a result, go without treatment, often with devastating consequences.
More than a decade ago, I founded Komedyplast as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) international organization. My goal was to develop a Center of Excellence in a developing country where children with complex craniofacial abnormalities would not only be treated but would also be followed by the same team year after year to assess their progress and additional needs that occur with growth over time. In addition, identifying a medical center where the training of local plastic surgeons would be possible, so as to impart at least some of the complex techniques we routinely perform, would be ideal. In 2004, I conducted a site visit to the Instituto de Salud del Nino in Lima, Peru, the only dedicated children’s hospital in a country, at that time, of 23 million people (current population: 30 million). With the very receptive Peruvian plastic surgeons at del Nino, I was able to modify the hospital’s infrastructure to ensure complex skull reconstructions could be performed with adherence to the same high medical standards as in the United States.
Ten years later, we have just successfully completed our 9th mission, having operated on sixteen children during this trip and more than 150 children since Komedyplast's inception. Our team includes four craniofacial plastic surgeons, two pediatric anesthesiologists, a pediatric neurosurgeon, two scrub techs and four clowns - yes, clowns! - from Caring Clowns International who entertain the children during the evaluation day, in the ICU and Recovery Room following surgery, and throughout the entire mission. They're an amazing part of Komedyplast. On the final day of our mission, the Bishop of Lima rounded with us then joined us for a pre-operative blessing. What a wonderful surprise!
So, why Peru? Why not? It's a beautiful country with many beautiful children who need our help. Although many of our team barely speak Spanish, the entire team speaks the universal language of compassion and empathy and I'm very proud of them.
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Please note that unless you are actually my patient, in which case I have seen and evaluated you at JW Plastic Surgery, then I am technically not your doctor. These posts and responses to inquiries are provided for educational and entertainment purposes but cannot apply to any individual patient who has not been directly evaluated by myself or another Board-certified plastic surgeon.