Humanitarian service: Providing cleft repair in Peru

May 2018 – Vol. 37, No. 4

Deniz Gerecci, MD,
5th year otolaryngology resident at Oregon Health & Sciences University

I joined the Foundation for the Advancement of Cleft Education and Services (FACES) team in January 2018 for my first surgical mission trip. The team has been going to the same two cities and hospitals in northern Peru for over 10 years, providing medical and surgical care to children with cleft lip or palate who are isolated geographically and financially from medical care.

Team member Sunthosh Sivam, MD, and Dr. Gerecci pause between cases

I was one of 38 members of the team, which included surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, speech language pathologists, Spanish interpreters, and other volunteers. The surgical team was composed of four American otolaryngologists with fellowship training through the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS): Tom Wang, MD, Oregon Health & Science University; Dana Smith, MD, Kaiser Permanente Hospital; Christian Stallworth, MD, University of Texas San Antonio; and Lisa Morris, MD, Intermountain Healthcare. They were joined be three trainees: Christine Taylor, MD, University of Minnesota AAFPRS fellow; Sunthosh Sivam, MD, University of Texas San Antonio 5-year resident; and myself.

Between January 27 and February 2, 2018, our team treated a total of 49 patients. A variety of cleft procedures were performed, including cleft palate repair, cleft lip repair, cleft rhinoplasty, pharyngeal flap, sphincter pharyngoplasty, scar revisions, alveolar bone grafting, ear tube placement, and dental extractions.

the FACES team gathers in the OR on the first day of cases at Hospital Belen in Lambayeque, Peru

The FACES team gathers in the OR on the first day of cases at Hospital Belen in Lambayeque, Peru

One patient and his parents left a lasting impression on me. Salvador was a two-year-old boy born with cleft lip and palate. On a prior trip, he had his cleft lip repaired. This time, he was scheduled to undergo repair of his palate. As I met him in the pre-operative area, his parents were in tears with fear and gratitude that their son was about to undergo another surgery. I remember them both holding my hand and crying while the Spanish interpreter translated that they had been praying for his surgery to go smoothly and had prayed for God to bless the hands and the mind of the surgeons who would be operating on him. I felt so honored and deeply humbled to be one of the surgeons taking care of their son. After the surgery, I met them in the recovery area to let them know his surgery had gone well, and they smothered me with tears, hugs, and kisses of gratitude. The feeling that my knowledge and training could provide care for a child who would otherwise not have the medical care he needed was deeply touching and will not be forgotten. I am so grateful to the AAO-HNS Foundation for the travel grant, as it was my first opportunity to provide surgical and medical care on a mission trip. The impressions and experiences I had on this trip will stay with me for the rest of my career, and I look forward to going on additional mission trips in the future.