Although you will likely come to see me because of my expertise in aesthetic plastic surgery, many of you know that I have traveled internationally since medical school to work on the unmet health care needs of people in developing nations. During these journeys, I not only had the opportunity to treat the local people but the privilege of meeting with the local healers to learn about their traditional approach to caring for their community.
These interactions broadened my perspective beyond the science and textbook teachings we experience in the United States to the potential healing energy that a charismatic individual can impart to those who trust in his or her abilities.
Our time in Nepal in 1983 was spent working on setting up a clinic for the local villagers and surveying the health care needs of the population. We always made a point of including a traditional healer with us to enhance his stature amongst the locals as he would be the primary source of care for the villagers after our departure. We both gained from this experience as his appreciation of science and medicine blended with our desire to understand his use of medicinal herbs and homeopathic remedies that had been refined over centuries.
During my plastic surgery training, I had the opportunity to travel with Interplast (now called ReSurge International) to Peru on two reconstructive surgery trips. When I went into private practice in Manhattan, I felt a commitment to continue helping children in need and led trips to Micronesia and Palau in the South Pacific with the Reconstructive Surgery Foundation. Plastic surgery gives us the opportunity to transform lives by operating on children with cleft lips and palates. Although we succeeded in our mission, as you can see in these photos of one of my patients seen one year after surgery, the lives of the children were not the only ones being transformed.
All those who make the journey to help those in such great need are transformed as well. As the father of one child told me as we departed Peru, “My son will never forget you”. I too will never forget my experiences working overseas and look forward to future surgical missions abroad.
Written by Dr. Forley on July 1, 2011