Transforming Lives in Peru With ReSurge International – Second in a Series

Posted by: in Inside WCG on February 24, 2011

Here is the second in a four part series about my experiences in helping ReSurge make a difference in the lives of young children with deformities and injuries repairable by surgery:

Day 2: Early bird gets the worm

Today is the first day of surgery for the ReSurge International team in Pucallpa, Peru. And if the early bird gets the worm, we should be more than good to go considering the early rooster wake-up call. Yes, we were literally woken by roosters on the hotel property. As my friend Jenn once said to me, “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.” So true!

I had the honor of being part of this morning’s scenario-planning discussion in the OR (in full gear: scrubs – graciously bought for me by Rene, shoe covers, mask and hair cap, too) and saw how this good natured, jovial team quickly become serious. It is truly about life-changing surgery but also about the risks of any procedure…especially when dealing with such young patients.

The team reviewed protocols, “what-if” scenarios and how to handle an emergency. For a moment, knowing the control freak I am, I wanted to jump in, as I love a good war game. But I reminded myself that I’m not medical, this is not my gig, and I’m so lucky to be a guest (of course, need to keep reminding cousin Barbara of this too). 🙂

The five patients for today range from 7 months to 9 years of age, four boys and one little girl.

I stayed in the OR while the first patient, Angel, a 4-year-old boy whose double cleft lip (and palette but only addressing lip) was a difficult case, was anesthetized. Roy, one of the surgeons, explained it is a tricky case as this procedure is usually completed at a younger age. At this age, they need to deal with the open cavity, the lip that is raised very high, teeth, lack of tissue, and so much more. Truly fascinating. Roy and Eric tag-teamed this surgery which took over 4 hours. We saw the results of their work immediately in the recovery room, and I personally helped the child drink some water via syringe I emptied into his mouth while his mom held him.

Literally on the next table, was a 2-year-old boy who, while his cleft palette was the main problem, it could not be addressed due to massive tonsils at the time. Realistically, his tonsils need to be removed, then he needed to wait 6 weeks before addressing the palette. Given this health challenge, Richard, the Webster Fellow, performed a less complicated surgery that was more cosmetic to help even out his lips.

And yes, after they were both asleep and before the cutting happened, I stepped out of the room.

I spent 3 hours sitting on the floor playing with the half dozen little boys in the waiting room prior to their surgeries speaking broken Spanish and gesturing grandly.  SO fun. Got a good laugh when I attempted to tell one of the 10-year-olds he was tall and said I was too … or at least that is what I think I said. One mother asked me how old I was, and I replied I was too old to ask. I was going to respond with my standard answer: 29 for the 10th time (or maybe more) but couldn’t figure out how to translate it in my broken Spanish! Not sure if she asked because I was so into the game with the kids or because I look so young. 🙂  Shared a picture of my dog Barkley, of course, but they were much more interested in the snake photo I had from the Bronx Zoo. Ninos! And at the picture of  the Statue of Liberty – lots of head nodding from the moms when I said I was from Nueva York , Estados Unidos.

After playing, I made my way back into the OR to see the final touches of surgery on the 7-month-old little girl. She is beautiful baby and is now even more beautiful with her cleft lip addressed by Richard. Her mom was so happy holding her in the recovery room. The baby was able to breastfeed right away and no complications are anticipated.

Yes, I made it into the OR and stayed a bit longer. I saw a 2-year-old coquette (flirtatious) boy, who stole my heart while we played games earlier, under the surgeon’s knife. He was originally scheduled for a cleft palette but due to some infection noticed once he was asleep, Roy switched gears and worked to improve the lip cosmetically. He will certainly have all the more reason to be an even bigger flirt now! His mom was very relieved.

Last, but not least, was a 9-year-old boy. This nino was repeatedly my game challenge winner and clearly muy inteligente. He came into the OR very brave, without tears, and I helped Mike lay him on the table once he was a bit groggy from the anesthesia. I left the OR before the first incision and can’t wait to see the results of the team’s work tomorrow. As I exited the hospital, I saw his mom who seemed reassured as I told her in my broken Spanish her son was in good hands.

As you can begin to see, today’s surgery is probably one of several surgeries these children will need. Ideally, ReSurge International will make the Pucallpa, Peru trip an annual trip and we will be able to come back and finish the work the team started today … and begin to help many others as well.

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