“In Less Than 2 Hours, You Can Change a Child’s Life” — Dr. Mike Majmundar on Giving Back to Those in Need

Jager Weatherby on 18 Dec 2014 at 5:00pm

Mike Hug
Dr. Mike Majmundar gets a hug from a patient before surgery in Guatemala

Despite what the mainstream media might like to portray, working as a plastic surgeon isn’t all about perfecting the bodies of the wealthy and famous. For many of these surgeons, the role comes with a sense of responsibility to give back to those in need, from children abroad born with facial deformities to families right here in America who lack affordable access to medical care.

Facial plastic surgeon Mike Majmundar is one of these doctors. When he’s not busy giving free skin cancer screenings and collecting donations for Toys For Tots, he’s providing free surgeries for children and adults in Central America. While his primary focus is cleft lips and palates, he offers his talents to any problem with the face and neck, including burns, fractures, tumors, and more. The Atlanta-based surgeon is so passionate about his work, he decided to found his own charity, Second Chance Surgeries. The not-for-profit organization is committed to providing free medical, psychological, and surgical care to individuals in poverty-stricken countries who are suffering from these deformities. They’re currently raising money to fund their next mission in 2015.

RealSelf caught up with Dr. Majmundar to hear more about his humanitarian efforts, and learn how average Americans can make the biggest impact.

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RealSelf: What inspired you to start going on these medical trips?
Dr. Majmundar: Even before medical school, I had an interest in helping kids with cleft lips and palates. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Fortunately and unfortunately, there’s just not a whole lot of these conditions in the US. I decided to train in Albuquerque, New Mexico because they have so many Native American tribes with a high rate of cleft lip and palates. But once I moved home to Atlanta, there just wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to do that. So that’s why I got involved with some of these organizations.

RealSelf: What would you say is the most important aspect of the work that you do?
Dr. Majmundar: Working with the kids and families is the most gratifying part of it. The surgery is pretty straight forward and not very difficult to do. But seeing seeing how much difficulty the children have beforehand with everyday things like speech, then seeing them with their families afterward — that’s the most gratifying part of what I do. That, in itself, makes it worth it. The reason I continue to do this is because people are just so grateful.

Cleft Before and After
Before and After Surgery: 48-week-old baby with a cleft lip and palate

RealSelf: Have you had one patient in particular who’s really left a lasting impression on you?
Dr. Majmundar: The one that really sticks with me was one of the first patients I ever operated on. It was a cleft lip and palate case, but she was 16 years old. She lived on her father’s farm in a shed behind the house, because her parents were so socially embarrassed by her. In these cultures, a cleft lip and palate is viewed as a major deformity. A person gets shunned. Her parents didn’t know what to do with her. She couldn’t get a job, she couldn’t socialize. Her father came in with her and I asked him what he wanted me to do. He said, “I would like for her to have a chance to get married.” We scheduled the surgery for the next day, and in less than two hours she had a life-changing operation that made her a completely different person. She’ll be accepted into society, she’ll be able get a good job, she’ll meet guys, and her family will let her live in the house again. All the things that we take for granted.

RealSelf: Has there been something that’s surprised you or been unexpected during these trips?
Dr. Majmundar: The thing that I’ve been really surprised by is how hard of a time the doctors and government give us there. Last year, I arrived in Guatemala and the director of the hospital comes over and says, “We’d love for you to help these children. We’re so glad that you could be here. But before you get started, we really need lights in the operating room.” They literally would not let me get to work until I bought new lights for the all of the operating rooms. The second day I was there, they told me I needed to go out and buy patient gowns. I don’t mind doing that, but I wish they would go about it in a different way. If they had told me what they needed, I would have brought it with me. These doctors come from far away to help their people at no cost, but in order to let you to help their people, they want something more in return.

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RealSelf: What do you think we take for granted in America that you wish others could see through your eyes?
Dr. Majmundar: I think the biggest thing is the dichotomy in the socioeconomic classes. What’s poverty here and what’s poverty there is much different. The hospital I went to this year is a big government run hospital, but they have bats in their stairwells and flies in their operating rooms. Just from a sanitation standpoint, it’s much cleaner here. Infection control is so much better. People there don’t even have access to clean water. They can’t bathe daily, so their risk of infection is so much higher. There’s no medicare or medicaid: You can only get healthcare if you can afford it. Here, we have patient rooms and nurse call buttons and everyone gets breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There you get a cot. Your meals are up to you. One of the biggest things they need down there is ibuprofen, but no one can afford it. Everyone’s in pain. It’s a very different society.

1500 Guatemala residents wait in line to see Majmundar and his team of doctors

RealSelf: Where do you see the biggest need and how can average people make an impact?
Dr. Majmundar: For people who don’t have the medical background to provide these surgeries, the biggest thing they can do is increase awareness. As we get more awareness, we can raise more money. Unfortunately, surgical equipment is just not cheap. I rely on donations from other hospitals here in Atlanta, and they’re very generous. But earlier this year, there was a lot I had to purchase out of pocket. It’s nice to have the support of other people. More donations mean more supplies. But if you can’t donate money, that’s fine. Donate a Facebook post! Join the conversation, and through that, more people will gain awareness.

RealSelf: What’s the message you would give to young doctors about making time for this kind of work?
Dr. Majmundar: Go for it! It can be a big headache, and you’ve got to deal with a lot of red tape, but it’s very gratifying work. It opens up a whole different world. It changes your entire attitude and how you look at people.

Mike Majmundar
About Dr. Mike Majmundar

Dr. Mike Majmundar is a double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon based out of Atlanta. He’s been recognized as a Top Doctor by Atlanta magazine, Jezebel magazine, U.S. News and World Report, and Castle Connolly Medical. Prior to founding Second Chance Surgeries, he dedicated his talents to similar organizations such as Flying Doctors of America and Medical Outreach of America.

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