Letting the life and light shine through her new eyes
As surgeons, we spend what feels like a lifetime training to become who we want to be in our professional careers. Through all of this hard work and study, we sometimes neglect to realize the huge impact we have on the lives of others, not only patients, but also their families and those around them.
By Javier González-Castro, MD, Oregon Health and Sciences University, Humanitarian Travel Grant Awardee
As surgeons, we spend what feels like a lifetime training to become who we want to be in our professional careers. Through all of this hard work and study, we sometimes neglect to realize the huge impact we have on the lives of others, not only patients, but also their families and those around them. We overlook how this in turn impacts our lives not as surgeons, but as people. As part of the surgical team of the FACES foundation I travelled to Lambayeque, Peru, with the objective of treating patients with cleft lip and palate deformities, but little did I know that we would be doing so much more than that. We were changing lives!
My name is Javier González-Castro, I am currently training in facial plastic and microvascular surgery at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). As a fellow I was given the opportunity to be a part of the FACES foundation surgical team, an opportunity for which I am eternally grateful. As part of the group, I traveled to Lambayeque, Peru, where we evaluated 90 patients and operated on 47 between January 25 and 30, 2015. This effort could not have been completed if not for the help of the local Lions Club, the people from Belen Hospital, and the whole FACES team. I would also like to thank the AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Efforts Committee for helping me with many of the costs associated with the trip.
During this trip we treated children of all ages, performing cleft lip repairs, palatoplasties, cleft rhinoplasties, and alveolar bone grafts. Although the babies always leave their footprint in our mind, the patient who stood out the most in my mind was a 12-year-old who had lived her entire life with a wide cleft lip/palate and no access to adequate help. When we saw her before surgery, we saw what everyone else saw: a girl with a terrible deformity who in the eyes of the people of her village was truly a monster. To her family and others who knew her, they saw a developmentally delayed 12-year-old who could not even speak and shied away from making eye contact. When I first met this child, I saw a shy, scared child who was socially delayed due to the deformity that she had to live with all her life. She went into surgery that day not knowing what lay ahead; she had no idea of what she would see the next time she looked in the mirror.
The surgery was a success! The whole team was very happy with the results, but the most beautiful part was when this child looked at herself in the mirror for the first time. Her face filled with joy, she started to hug all those in sight whether she knew them or not. It was as if an incredible weight was lifted off her shoulders; the scarlet letter had been removed. Instantly you could see how she changed from a scared young girl, to a beautiful young girl with so much life ahead of her. Before the surgery her eyes looked like those of a scared old lady; after the surgery you see the eyes of a cute little girl, full of light and love. It is astonishing to think that those eyes belong to the same person. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of that and hope to continue to be a part of it.
It is amazing that by simply giving this child a new smile, we let the life and light shine through her new eyes.