Dr. Howard Tobin and Cosmetic Surgical Center anesthetist Robert Laird recently returned from their annual visit to Encinada, Mexico, where they participated in the Rotary International sponsored cleft palate surgery clinic headed by California maxillofacial surgeon, Jeff Moses. It is a touching story off commitment in which the givers truly feel that they receive far more than they give.
Since initially volunteering four years ago, Dr. Tobin has returned yearly in February to join this massive effort of humanity and goodwill. Joined by his wife Gail, and more recently by Laird, this year the group also included Robert,s daughter Beth who assisted in a number of roles from food handler to OR assistant. Gail, who has been present from the start has undertaken jobs ranging from instrument sterilization to food preparation as well as clothing distribution and patient guide. While Dr. Tobin carried out cleft lip and palate surgery years ago, his current role focuses on nasal surgery, which is common in children with cleft lip and palate deformity.
While the surgeons often get the focus of attention, the work would not be possible without the massive cooperative effort that goes with the project. Within the course of a few hours, an almost empty Red Cross building is converted into a rather bare bones, but fully functional operating room and dental clinic. Truck loads of equipment are brought it and set up in a very short time. While the project looks like total confusion, everyone seems to know his job and very quickly hundreds of patients are been seen and screened for treatment.
Children are provided routine dental treatment — often totally lacking. They undergo hearing tests and speech evaluation. While at the clinic, they are fed and provided with clothing and toys. Many of them travel thousands of miles to attend the clinic, which is entirely free.
The next day, surgery is carried out in five operating areas that have been fully equipped with donated equipment that, while not the most modern, is fully functional. Three of the operating theaters are in a common room. The other two are set up in tiny offices which are hardly bigger than closets. The nurses, anesthetists and doctors work in conditions that far more resemble a MASH unit than the typical U.S. operating room, but there is a spirit of cooperation that exceeds most any seen at home. Whatever is lacking is more than made up for in ingenuity. Local doctors are recruited look after the children after surgery, and also are provided training so that they can eventually take over part of the care.
Dr. Moses, who heads up the surgical team, makes four trips a year, and has a list of surgeons who are anxiously awaiting vacancies. While the list grows, he reports that it is difficult to work in new surgeons, since the ones who have come before keep returning over and over. Certainly Tobin and Laird exemplify this commitment. Before the trip was over, they were already planning next years visit.
While not all the volunteers are from Rotary, certainly the international service club deserves high credit for all the work they have done in making this Thousand Smiles project the success it is.
Also see http://www.thousandsmiles.org