I first became involved with Healing The Children Northeast in 2008, when I was asked by a plastic and reconstructive surgeon friend of many years to join her on a mission to Belize to photographically document the work that she and the other team members were doing to correct facial defects and deformities in children.
We traveled to Punta Gorda, which is the southernmost and poorest province of Belize. After flying into Belize city, we endured a five hour bus ride to our destination. Punta Gorda borders the Mayan mountains, which contain approximately 23 villages. At the time we were there, except for the three villages closest to Punta Gorda, the rest of the villages in the mountains did not have electricity or running water.
The hospital that served the area was primitive and dirty. Nevertheless, the team members went straight to work literally having to move junk out of an operating room so we could perform surgery. They scrubbed the walls, found an old gurney with rotting rubber wheels that served as our OR table, and got everything necessary to make the room passable for operations. Fortunately, we brought all of our own equipment and monitors along, with portable anesthesia machines. Having watched this whole transformation take place, and the incredible surgeries that followed, I was "hooked". I wanted to be part of this organization.
And, what was your next medical trip?
The following year, I went to Lima Peru with a different team. Lima was a lot more advanced, but the children were the same - they needed medical and surgical treatment that we could provide....and we did.
After the Peru trip, I was asked to come on the Board of Directors for Healing the Children, Northeast and enthusiastically accepted.
I have since made numerous trips to Colombia, and in 2012 was asked to serve as president of the Board of Directors, and served in that position since, with a wonderful helpful supportive board.
Can you tell us a little about the Board of Directors and some of its functions?
The Board of Directors has a multi-faceted role. First and foremost is to ensure that we have ongoing funding in order to continue our mission to send medical, surgical and dental teams around the world. Accomplishing this requires that we have a budget in place that sustains our administrative expenses, i.e. salaries of our two permanent employees, along with all of the usual expenses incurred in running an office: electricity, heat, phones, computers, and all incidental costs relevant to the office.
In addition to the financial aspect of our responsibility, we assist our office personnel to make sure they have all the tools they need on a day-to-day basis, and that our medical teams also have the supplies and equipment that they require when they travel.
We are fortunate in that a lot of our board members are medical personnel who have traveled multiple times on missions to various countries, so they are very familiar with what our teams need, as well as connections with people in the the countries that we visit. This allows our board to be proactive in all aspects of our mission.
The Board has to assess new sites and determine whether such prospective sites are feasible in terms of geography, demographics, facilities available, and need. We also evaluate the feasibility of specific individual patients being brought to the United States for treatment under our International Inbound Program. This will involve arranging for the necessary care, transportation and host families in the United States.
Public relations and community involvement also come into play since we have a "Domestic Kids Program " which is ready to serve the needs of children in our local community if we have the resources to be of assistance here at home.
In order to make sure we are on top of everything, our board meets monthly and in addition we are communicating with each other, especially the executive committee, on an almost daily basis.
We are sure that each trip has special moments and generates lots of memorable experiences, what gratifying work! Can you share a memory from one of your medical trips abroad?
There are memorable moments from every trip, however one that stands out in my mind is from my first trip to Belize. It involves a young man, (18), who lived in a Mayan village in the mountains around Punta Gorda. He had a disfiguring cleft lip that caused him to be an item of ridicule in his home village.
As a teenager, he was so embarrassed that he moved to a different village in the mountains.
He heard about our mission while we were there, and was determined to see if we could help him. He got on his bike at 2 AM and rode in the dark on mountainous dirt roads for four hours until he came to a Peace Corps station. He waited for two hours until the volunteers came to open the office at 8 AM, and told them of his intention. Sympathetic, the two volunteers put him on a bus and accompanied him on a two hour bus ride to Punta Gorda. He came to us, we evaluated him, and we operated on him. We were able to fix his defect in just two hours.
He subsequently returned home to his original village, found a girlfriend, and so far as I know, is now leading a normal life.