“With Our Blessings Comes the Responsibility to Help Others” — Dr. Pat Pazmino on Free Plastic Surgery For Those in Need
Jager Weatherby on 26 Mar 2015 at 4:00pm
As a plastic surgeon in sunny Miami, Florida, Dr. Pat Pazmino surely performs his fair share of breast augmentations and Brazilian butt lifts. However, for the board-certified doctor, being a part of this industry isn’t all about perfecting the bodies of housewives and beach bums. For him, the role comes with a sense of responsibility to give back to those in need, which includes providing much-need surgeries for people abroad who lack access to basic medical care.
Alongside a team of nurses, anesthesiologists, technicians, and support staff, Dr. Pazmino has gone on seven plastic surgery trips to Haiti, Brazil, and Peru. In 2014, Pazmino and his team performed 50 reconstructive surgeries in just five days, and in doing so, transformed the lives of people who’d otherwise never receive the care. He’s currently in the process of organizing two more trips to Ecuador and West Africa.
RealSelf caught up with Dr. Pazmino to learn more about his philanthropic efforts. Below, he shares the emotional story of one of his most memorable patients, and urges young doctors to continue with this work.
RealSelf: What inspired you to start going on these medical trips?
Dr. Pazmino: My second favorite thing about plastic surgery is its diversity. Unlike just pediatrics or geriatrics, our patients include babies and senior citizens. Unlike orthopedics or neurosurgery, we’re not limited by tissue types. We can operate on bones, nerves, tendons, the skin, and anything underneath it.
My first favorite thing about plastic surgery is the creativity that you need to practice it well. When we travel for these trips, we bring simple instruments, lots of sutures, and our imaginations. These trips have let me help patients of any age group and perform a wider variety of surgeries than I usually do. The limitations in supplies and instruments ensure that your creativity will be put to good use.
RealSelf: Did you have a patient in particular who left a lasting impression on you?
Dr. Pazmino: On our last trip to Peru, we operated for five days. On the last day, a family brought in their 12-year-old daughter. We explained that this was our last day of the campaign and asked the family how we could help. The mother tugged on the daughter's hair and it came right off. It was a wig. Under the wig we saw her exposed skull. The family explained that they’d been in a car accident the week before and that the daughter was thrown from the vehicle and lost a large portion of her scalp. When they went to a local clinic for help, the clinic didn’t know what to do and gave her a wig to cover the defect. This was dangerous because the exposed skull would eventually dry and die away. The brain underneath would then be at high risk for a deadly infection. We immediately took her to the OR and used a little suture and a lot of creativity to create large flaps from her scalp and rotate them to completely close the defect and cover her skull. Fortunately, she made a full recovery.
This patient stands out because we were both at the right place at the right time. If she had come a day later, we wouldn’t have been there to help and a curable condition would have turned into a deadly one.
RELATED: African Man Receives Free Keloid Surgery After Connecting With Doctor Through RealSelf
RealSelf: What do you think these kinds of programs need or would benefit from the most? What can average Americans do to make the biggest impact?
Dr. Pazmino: We’ve established a non-profit charitable organization for these trips called Sonrisa Miami. We accept expired but unused medical supplies and donations to help defray the costs of the medications and the travel expenses of the nurses we sponsor. We keep track of where every donation and supply is used so that when we come back, we can let the donor know exactly who they helped. A single suture or the smallest donation can make a big difference.
RealSelf: What you do think we take for granted in America that you wish others could see through your eyes?
Dr. Pazmino: As Americans, we are so blessed. But with these blessings, comes the responsibility to help others. By using our creativity to find ways to help others around us or far away, we can change the world.
RealSelf: What message would you give to young doctors about making time for this kind of work?
Dr. Pazmino: These trips are challenging, fun, and will reorder your priorities and recharge your batteries. The first time I went, I thought that I was bringing a gift to these patients. But working with these families, and seeing their strength, faith, dignity, and incredible gratitude, I learned that I was the one who received the true gift.
Want to help transform the life of someone in need? Join the RealSelf Change500 campaign and give the gift of life-changing surgery.
About Dr. Pat Pazmino
Dr. Pat Pazmino graduated with honors from Harvard University with a degree in Biochemical Sciences. He then went on to earn his medical degree from the Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Plastic Surgery Chief Resident. During his residency, Dr. Pazmino won the award for Best Maxillofacial Paper from the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation and continued his research in breast cancer gene therapy, wound healing, and educating the next generation of aesthetic surgeons. Dr. Pazmino is currently the President of the Miami Society of Plastic Surgeons. Learn more at his website.