Plastic Surgery Benefits Everyone
Dr. Daniel J. Ervin, an otolaryngololgist in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, donates his time and talents to a worthy cause. Once a year, for one week, he travels to help those living in the mountains of Guatemala receive health care that they otherwise would not realize.
"They need surgery and there is no way to take care of it," said Ervin. Ervin is part of a team associated with Frontline Missions, a Christian Organization. They travel to the Guatemalan Mountains to help people who have little or no access to health care. He has been spending a week in Guatemala for the last five years, donating his services, "The nice thing about me going to a place like this is it restores my faith in what I do. You don't have to worry about malpractice, paperwork or insurance. It makes medicine a lot more attractive." He said that helping those who are in need is also part of his religious convictions.
His trips to Guatemala have produced memorable moments for him. One that he recounted involved a 12-year-old girl with a cleft lip. After the cleft lip was repaired, everyone in the girl's family was extremely happy. He held up a mirror for the little girl to see but there was no change in her expression. He asked through an interpreter if she was disappointed with the results. She did not see a change, he was told, because she had never seen herself in a mirror. "It makes you realize how very fortunate we are in this country."
Ervin is not alone on his Guatemalan treks. There are usually 10 to 15 people on the medical team, including pediatricians and nurse practitioners, as well as a work crew. While the medical team does their work, the work team spends the week building schools and churches.
The yearly Guatemalan trek usually occurs in January or February. That is the time of year when it is easiest to get in and out of the mountains without experiencing bad weather conditions.
During the week in the mountainous terrain, they see 400 to 500 people and perform 30 to 40 surgical procedures. "We don't know what needs to be done until we get down there." Work in the past for Dr. Ervin has included removing facial tumors and repairing cleft lips. "A makeshift operating room is set-up and the surgery is done under local anesthesia, sometimes with a little sedation," he continued. The team goes to areas where people cannot get to the hospital. "The nearest hospital is two to three hours away. If it doesn't come to them, chances are very low they'll receive treatment."
The cost of going to the city for medical treatment is not feasible for these Guatemalans. The trip and treatment would be cost prohibited. For the family members to stay in the city it would cost them about $2,000 dollars in American money. This is the equivalent of four or five years' salary to the Guatemalans.
Of the patients he cares for during his trip, Ervin says, "They appreciate what we do, especially with something like cleft lip, it is socially stigmatizing. To alleviate it is pretty rewarding. They can't believe we come to the village and do something like that. In reality we gain more than they do." The team members live and eat with the people of the Guatemalan community during their stay. "It adds a lot to the experience."
Guatemala has a socialized form of medicine, with some villages only receiving a doctor once a month. "These people have a lack of adequate health care," said Ervin. While in Guatemala, the medical team sees many different medical ailments. Since many Guatemalans travel long distances, sometimes upwards of four to five hours, the team makes it a priority to treat as many medical conditions as possible.
Hospitals and doctors often donate supplies for the trip. Ervin said that there is always a need for more instruments, as well as a portable suction unit.
For his work in Guatemala, Ervin was recently recognized as Community Clinician of the Year by the Worcester North District Medical Society, one of 20 districts of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the oldest Medical Society in the country. Ervin said that it was "very flattering" to receive the award as there are many people who donate their time and talents to worthy causes.