Medical Mission Trips

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Medical Mission Trips

-Win Pound, M.D.

“What you are is God's gift to you.
What you become is your gift to God.”
-Unknown-

Participating in medical mission trips abroad is one way to re-pay God for the blessings He has bestowed upon me as a plastic surgeon. To date, I have been on over a dozen trips, primarily to South and Central America but also to India. They are a win-win situation for everyone. I get to see parts of the world that I would never visit otherwise and patients have access to surgery that they might never have otherwise,

Surgical mission trips require a lot of money, time, and gathering of materials. Most of the money used to purchase the materials used is raised through fundraisers and donations. This material must then be shipped to the destination and placed in the hands of trusted local groups who also serve as our hosts, organizing everything from lodging and food to transportation. This is not a small task as most of the trips that I have been on include 20-25 people – pre-op nurses, anesthesiologists, surgical assistants, doctors, recovery room nurses, and administrative personnel.

On the day of our arrival, we hold a screening clinic. Part of the team sets up the operating room or rooms that we will use, part sets up our materials in central supply, and the rest screen anywhere from 200-400 patients, many of whom have traveled as far as 100 miles in order to be seen. From this group, we select the patients on whom we will operate and map out our surgery schedule for the coming week. Only when all of this is completed are we able to go to our hotel for the first time, rest, and unpack.

We usually operate for one week, sometimes taking a day in the middle to shop in the local market or visit a local attraction. We arrive at the hospital at sun-up, visit patients on the ward for dressing changes, and then operate non-stop until sundown. Lunch is brought to the hospital so that we have minimal disruption of our surgery. Most of the surgeries involve cleft lips, cleft palates, and burn reconstructions, but we see an assortment of other surgical challenges as well.

I usually do the burn reconstructions. Most of the doctors don't like doing burns but I find them very challenging. In poor households, dwellings are heated and lit using candles and fire since they do not have electricity. If the candles burn down and fall over, the entire house will go up in flames. Too poor for medical access, children must learn to adapt to the distortions caused by their burn scars as they grow. I would love to make these children beautiful again, but my primary priority is simply to restore them to normal functioning. Arms, legs, and hands distorted by burn scars must be straightened using skin grafts or skin flaps and then splinted.

At the end of the week, we hold our final clinic to see our post-op patients. Then it is off to the airport to wind our way back to the cities from whence we came. Leaving is always an emotional time as the team has been through a lot together. It is a bonding experience for all of us, extremely grueling but also extremely rewarding.

I keep a few photo albums in my office of some of my trips. Sometimes patients look at them and tell me they feel guilty about being vain and having cosmetic surgery when there are so many needy people in the world. I am always happy to remind them that it is because they came to see me for their cosmetic surgery that I am able to go and help those needy people elsewhere. Their patronage is what allows me to go on these medical mission trips.

Article by
Atlanta Plastic Surgeon