Humanitarian Travel Grant: Microtia Repair in Ecuador

October 2020 – Vol. 39, No. 9

Natalie S. Justicz, MD

Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in the Help Us Give Smiles (HUGS) Foundation trip to Ecuador, focusing on microtia, from April 27–May 5, 2019. The annual HUGS trip takes place at Hospital Padre Carollo/Fundación Tierra Nueva in Quito, which provides health services to more than 500,000 patients every year.

Over the course of the weeklong trip, I was part of a team (based out of Rochester, NY, although it included physicians and hospital staff from across the country) that provided auricular reconstruction to children and adults afflicted with microtia, ear trauma, or other ear-related deformities. There were three surgical operating rooms daily, under five different facial plastics and reconstructive surgery-trained attendings. There was also a minor procedure room that provided surgeries under local anesthesia. I had the opportunity to learn unique styles and work with all the different attending surgeons during my time in Quito. I personally assisted with surgeries every day and pro-vided preoperative and postoperative surgical care.

This HUGS service trip provided free surgical care to patients in an underserved and impoverished area, who otherwise would not have access to this specialty care for microtia repair. Simultaneously, HUGS used this time to train local physicians and medical staff, therefore creating sustainability of the program by empowering local healthcare providers. I met and befriended many of the residents from the otolaryngology and facial plastics surgery programs but became especially close to two residents, Tamara and Katherine. I helped them in the OR as we performed microtia repairs; and in turn, they helped me navigate the Ecuadorian medical record system and provide excellent postoperative care to our patients.

The trip was also an opportunity to train U.S. residents, like myself, who are interested in performing these types of surgeries but may not have adequate exposure to them at our home institutions. Since the time I applied for this grant, I have been accepted into a facial plastics and reconstructive surgery fellowship at the University of Michigan. I will have the opportunity to provide microtia care as part of the fellowship experience, and I hope, in my future career, as an academic facial plastic surgeon.

This trip was a defining experience for me to gain training in a type of surgery that I am very passionate about, to connect with providers and patients in Ecuador, and to help an underserved community. I am very grateful to the Academy for helping to financially support this endeavor.