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Volunteering in the Dominican Republic

My annual trip to the Dominican Republic took place from February 4th to the 11th this year. The trip is organized and sponsored by a not for profit group called Medical Aid for Children of Latin America (MACLA), which has been active for thirty years. My involvement began as a resident at the University of Chicago Hospitals while I was a resident in training. This was my sixth trip! Every year seems more rewarding than the last. Now that there is a personal routine (my scrubs, shoes, basic medical supplies and old white coat stay in my Dominican shoulder bag year to year) and many of the volunteers are familiar faces, it is easier to immerse myself in the work at hand. This year we were presented with many of the same surgical concerns as years past: cleft lips and palates, congenital ear deformities, burn scars and limb contractures, congenital and traumatic hand deformities.

What I have realized as people applaud my personal sacrifice is that this does not seem like sacrifice at all. This is not work. This trip is a joy and a pleasure. I am allowed to immerse myself in pure surgery. Bureaucracy is lifted away. Friendships built around sharing this common good and lots of laughter make the trip more like a family reunion than anything close to a job. I consider myself so lucky to be a part of something so productive, functional and deeply satisfying. This year we were able to see nearly 200 patients in our pre-operative clinic on Sunday and by the end of the week had provided over 120 surgical operations free to the poor and underserved.

Reina came back to the Sunday clinic for a post-operative check one year after having a giant hemangioma removed from her upper lip. At age 2 ½ she was brought to us by her father who had taken over her care when her mother began neglecting her due to the deformity.

He and his wife have many other children, and this high needs child had become either a physical, emotional or social burden for her mother. Her father on the other hand considered her an angel and was her sole caregiver. Over the past year since her surgery he reports that Reina is thriving!

She healed without incident and is eating and drinking normally. Many people don’t notice her scars or recognize her as the same baby. She will require further surgeries to remove more of the hemangioma and adjust her nose and the height of her lip. For now she needs time to grow and be loved. Happily, we learned also that her mother is providing more love and care for her. Reina is now getting the love she so much deserves from both parents.

 

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