Air Force medics conduct plastic surgery clinic

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
  • Air Force Print News
A seven-person plastic surgery team from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is currently providing free corrective surgeries to Ecuadorian civilians here.

Operating on mostly cleft lips and pallets, the team is staging from the El Hospital Militar de Cuenca, an Ecuadorian military hospital located near the center of the city.

“They are just wonderful people here,” said Col. (Dr.) Gary Arishita, chief of plastic surgery at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland. “Given the chance to help them is very gratifying to us.”

A majority of the patients are children from underprivileged families. One patient, 14-year old Adrian Pauta, gave his father a hug and walked down the hallway without a peep for his cleft lip operation.

“Kids here are very stoic,” Dr. Arishita said. “They are less dramatic than children in the United States. Kids here are forced to grow up quicker because of the conditions in which they live. Their attitudes are very different.”

Because the team has to use anesthesia on their patients, they will be able to treat only about 30 before departing July 28.

Before the medical readiness exercise began, they screened about 45 Ecuadorians. The team selected 30. But, even after the selection was made final, people still came to the team seeking help.

“It breaks my heart when so many people want help and we have to turn them away,” said Maj. Patricia Bradshaw, a nurse who controls the flow of patients in and out of the operating room. She also serves as the primary interpreter and is in charge of post operation recovery. “Every time we have to turn them away, a mother gets heartbroken.”

Adrian, who looks more like 10 than 14, was one of the lucky ones selected. His cleft lip draws the right side of his nose downward. During a one-and-a-half hour operation, Maj. (Dr.) Ted Ferguson, a plastic surgeon, peered through magnifying glasses for precision.

“In a lip repair, a millimeter off is noticeable,” Dr. Arishta said. “There is an artistry involved in this type of operation which gets better with experience.”

During this medical exercise, the two doctors here will repair more cleft pallets and lips in 12 days than in a year at Wilford Hall.

After an hour and a half, Adrian’s operation is over with no complications. Dr. Arishita said he will not only look better, which is important to a teenager, but he will also talk better.

“I create an emotional attachment to all the little children,” Dr. Ferguson said. “It’s more rewarding because I can affect their lives early on while they’re still in school and have an already difficult time relating to their peers.”

Later that same afternoon, doctors released Adrian so he could go home.

Last year, six medical readiness exercises provided free medical services to about 40,000 people throughout Ecuador.