Peruvian children receive surgeries, education

July 2019 - Vol. 38, No. 6


Daniel J. Wehrmann, MD
Pediatric Otolaryngology Fellow, University of Michigan – Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

From July 28 to August 4, 2018, I travelled with a group of volunteers from across the country composed of translators, dentists, audiologist, operating room staff, anesthesiologists, and physicians to Cusco, Peru, to partake in a surgical mission at EsSalud Hospital sponsored by Medical Mission for Children (MMFC). Our surgeon team was composed of five American otolaryngologists: David A. Zopf, MD (University of Michigan), Jennifer C. Kim, MD (University of Michigan), Elizabeth M. Knecht, MD (Dayton Children’s), Phillip L Chaffin, Jr., MD (St. Luke’s Children’s), Benjamin Paul, MD (Manhattan Facial Surgery Suites), and a Peruvian plastic surgeon, Mariano Sota, MD.

Every year, MMFC travels to Cusco, a city sitting high in the Andes Mountains, to treat the children of Peru who suffer with cleft lips, cleft palates, and microtia. During that week, we saw more than 200 children in clinic and were able to schedule more than 60 operations. These operations included cleft lip repair and cleft palate repair, as well as stage 1 and 2 microtia repairs and other procedures.

These families travel hours through the mountainous terrain to be treated. Their dedication to family and the sacrifices they make to travel hours to see our team, using the little resources they have, was truly inspiring. Patients return year after year for follow up and to say hello but also to act as a support group to their fellow Peruvians.

Having surgery is fear-provoking. Travelling hours away from the comfort of your home, meeting a medical team from the United States, and being told you need a large reconstructive surgery where we borrow rib cartilage to reconstruct the ear that you were born without can be overwhelming and terrifying.

Anything that a physician can do to help their patients feel comfortable can be extremely helpful in alleviating the fear of surgery. Last year, we were able to perform a microtia on a patient who came back this year, not for another operation but to share his experiences with his fellow Peruvians. In combination with Dr. Zopf, they created a video that we could share with the microtia patients to talk about his experience of having his microtia repair. He tells his story and of his experience. This video inspired Angela, a microtia patient, to create a version to share with the women of Peru that would need a microtia repair. Larry and Angela’s contributions will be shared to help their fellow Peruvians work through what can be a very stressful time for families and loved ones.

Overall, this trip was a huge success. Several microtia repairs, cleft lip, and cleft palate repairs were performed. But more importantly, we saw how people are willing to come together to support each other and help each other through what can be a difficult time. This is what made my trip to Cusco, Peru, so memorable and inspired me to continue to work to give back to those less fortunate.