Professionalism and love
Call it a recipe for healing. For more than a decade, Thomas Albert, M.D., DMD, has led teams of OHSU physicians, residents, students and Oregon delegates to rural Peru to provide cleft lip and palate repair surgeries for indigent children. The medical outreach is made possible, in part, through support by the Peruvian Lions Club, several of whom visited the OHSU campus for the first time this summer. One Lions representative said equal parts professionalism and love are what make the program so successful.
Dr. Albert, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, OHSU School of Medicine and professor emeritus of oral and maxillofacial surgery, created the Foundation for the Advancement of Cleft Education and Services (FACES) in 2001 to be a nonprofit model for delivering this needed care. The goal of FACES is to provide high quality, comprehensive cleft care beyond surgery alone to indigent, medically-isolated populations.
A glance through the FACES Foundation’s accomplishments quickly tells the ‘professionalism’ half of the story. During one surgical trip, the FACES team – including many OHSU doctors, nurses and operating room technicians – performs on average about 45 cleft lip and palate surgeries in six days. Their work has tallied more than 200 surgeries in the last five years (roughly the yearly average for the greater Portland area). With local community support and internet connectivity, many of these patients can be followed postoperatively and assessed for necessary secondary procedures.
It’s the ‘love’ half of this international health care story that reveals the transformative power of the FACES Foundation program.
The incidence of cleft lip and palate among Peruvian children is about the same as it is for American babies. Access to services, however, is much lower, and cleft surgery requires extensive follow-up care. Without surgery, many children are stigmatized, sometimes unable to speak, leading to social isolation that affects the entire family. Dr. Albert was compelled to help.
The local Peruvian Lions Club got involved and quickly became more than a local administrative contact and language translator. Members find, transport, house and feed the children who undergo surgery at Belen Hospital in Lambayeque, and provide companionship for nervous parents. Now, children who’ve been helped by FACES are becoming advocates in their own communities, emboldened by a relatively simple surgery – and lots of love.
Post-operative follow-up care – a crucial aspect of the program and one which Dr. Albert hopes can be expanded – is easier than ever with telemedicine. Using internet-enabled cameras and computers, bilingual speech therapists in Portland connect with patients in northern Peru, for example. “Ultimately, I’d like to help create a center of excellence in Peru where surgeries and follow-up care can be centralized. I think OHSU is a world class educational institution and its pertinent clinical programs could lend expertise and provide the knowledge base for this effort. Our goal is to provide the same level of comprehensive care for these children as we want for our own family – in a locally sustainable fashion. By working closely with such groups as the Lions, it becomes possible. We all get something heartwarmingly positive out of this effort.”
During their Portland visit, the Peruvians met with their Oregonian Lions Club counterparts and talked about expanding their sight and hearing outreach, which has already brought 4,000 pairs of glasses to Peruvian kids. At OHSU, the group paid a visit to the School of Medicine Dean’s office and the OHSU Casey Eye Institute. Dean Mark Richardson, M.D., MBA – a pediatric otolaryngologist – thanked the team for collaborating with OHSU faculty members, which by extension provides a unique and memorable training experience for students, residents and fellows.
And how did the Oregon trip influence the work of the Peruvian Lions Club back home? Longtime supporter Teresa Bancallán said the opportunity to see OHSU and connect with the FACES Foundation surgical teams in their own community provided motivation: “I feel I’m part of something big.” Now that’s a story worth telling.
For additional pictures and stories, see the FACES Foundation website.