About cleft lip and palate patients: I’ve been asked many times why there seem to be so many children with cleft lips in developing countries. There are two main reasons that some populations have more of these patients than others, namely maternal nutrition and a slight genetic tendency of certain groups. However, the overwhelming reason that this problem is so visible is that these deformities are so visible and they go unrepaired for so long in poorer countries.
The devastation of having a cleft lip can be profound in many world communities. Oftentimes, parents of cleft lip patients see the defect as a curse or a source of shame for the family, and in some communities, it is believed that a pregnant woman who sees a cleft lip child might ‘catch’ the condition and have a cleft lip baby herself, when of course nothing could be farther from the truth. Regardless, many families find reason to hide their children with facial birth defects at home without letting them participate in community activities. Even if the children are allowed to interact with their peers, oftentimes children are so cruel to one another that a cleft lip can be a very painful affliction psychologically.
Repairing a cleft lip or palate can therefore have a profound transformative effect on children, and quite literally can change a child’s destiny from being treated like a burden or lesser human to becoming a normal integrated individual into society. Medical mission work is challenging and exhausting, but enabling this transformation makes all of the efforts worth it 100 times over.
Naga, Philippines 2007
My first medical mission as a practicing plastic surgeon was to Naga city in the Bicol region of the Philippines. This was a mission that was performed under the larger organizational efforts of the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California. Along with Dr. Reza Momeni and Dr. Bhupesh Vasisht, we worked long days to treat patients with cleft lip & palate birth defects, and performed some minor procedures and burn reconstruction surgeries. I believe that this mission was the first time I learned that these missions positively transform the team members almost as much as our surgeries transform the lives of our patients in need.
We treated 24 patients during this 1 week mission before returning back to the United States. After seeing the tremendous need firsthand, we knew at the end of the mission period that we would be back soon to try to help where we could.
Davao, Philippines 2008
In January of 2008, one other plastic surgeon (Dr. Reza Momeni) and I returned to the Philippines, this time to the southern region, to once again provide reconstructive care to mostly children. The number of patients we treated was 37 in total, more than half of which were cleft lip and / or palate patients.
Bayambong, Philippines 2009
The third medical mission trip I led to the Philippines was
in 2009, in which one other surgeon (Dr. Bhupesh Vasisht) and I treated 26
patients, nearly all with facial birth defects.
In mid-2009, I created Destination: Hope as a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization to organize our medical mission efforts. The mission trips listed below were all performed under the Destination: Hope organization.
Baeza, Ecuador 2009
In 2009, Destination: Hope traveled to Baeza Ecuador, on its first official medical mission as an entity. Baezais in eastern Ecuador just at the entryway to the Amazon Basin. There were two plastic surgeons, and along with one otolaryngologist, and we treated 52 patients in all.
The primary surgeries undertaken were cleft lip, cleft palate repair, and microtia repair. A “microtia repair” is a procedure which involves the creation of a new external ear for patients that are not born with one, or who are only born with a small piece (called a ‘remnant’) of an ear. It can be a multi-stage process, but the most critical part of surgery is inserting an artificial framework to create a structure for the outer ear. We performed 6 such procedures on people without normal ear anatomy.
Phan Rang, Vietnam 2011
In January 2011, I was fortunate to travel to Phan Rang, Vietnam to assist with ReSurge International’s latest medical mission. I was sent as a Destination: Hope Plastic Surgeon Volunteer, attending ReSurge’s organized medical mission trip.
Over a 14-day period, two plastic surgeons (myself and one other) performed 122procedures on 79 patients, including cleft lip and palate surgeries, extra thumb removals, burn reconstruction surgery, and severe eyelid droop in children (which occurs occasionally as a birth defect).
This was not only a great mission because two weeks allowed for more than twice the usual work to be performed, but it was a great chance to observe the organizational efforts of a long-standing respected medical mission group such as ReSurge.
Occidental Mindoro, Philippines 2012
In another collaborated mission with the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California, Dr. Mosser led a medical mission with Destination: Hope to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro in the Philippines in January, 2012. Over a 1-week period, 49 procedures were performed total on 39 patients. Again, there was a great focus on cleft lip and palate cases, but our team managed to perform a large number of burn scar reconstructive procedures, to allow children who had been previously burned to once again be able to move their arms, legs and hands.
Donations: If you are inspired by our work and would like to donate to Destination: Hope please click here. Certainly the worldwide need is great, as children with birth defects can use all of the help that we can possibly give them. All of the work at Destination: Hope is performed on a volunteer basis, so our administrative costs are always kept extremely low, to deliver nearly all of the donated money directly to the children in need in the form of reconstructive surgeries.