Wednesday, April 18, 2012

FACE TO FACE Mission in Vietnam Educates Local Doctors and Heals Local Residents

Authored by Dr. Alvin Glasgold

Recently, I was asked to participate in a FACE TO FACE mission sponsored by The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), and it proved to be one of the most unique and gratifying experiences of my career. FACE TO FACE is a program that sends a team of doctors to underdeveloped countries to train local doctors in modern surgical techniques. As a team, we operated on patients who required surgery to repair facial deformities. These abnormalities ranged from major traumatic deformities requiring significant facial reconstruction to genetic defects, such as cleft palate and other congenital abnormalities.

The team consisted of five AAFPRS-certified surgeons from the United States: Dr. Mac Hodges from Tennessee, Drs. William Truswell and Albert Fox from Massachusetts, Dr. Keith LaFerriere from Missouri and myself, hailing from New Jersey. The group spent the first half of the week lecturing approximately 100 surgeons from Southeast Asia about our experiences and specialties. The second half of the week was devoted to performing surgery on 30 patients who were selected from the clinic. The University Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) served as the base for the week’s events.

During the mission, I helped to repair a variety of nasal problems, such as those occurring secondary to cleft palates, a collapse of the nasal bridge, as well as rhinoplasties. I had the privilege of being asked to perform rhinoplasty on one of the staff surgeons, which involved building up the depressed nasal dorsum and modifying the nasal tip to balance her new nose. I considered it to be quite an honor to help not only the patients, but a fellow surgeon as well. The Vietnamese patients were very hardy, did not complain and recovered quickly.

The mission was extremely rewarding and the patients were grateful for the assistance and experience we were able to provide for them. The local surgeons who participated in the course also expressed their appreciation for the learning experience, including the lectures and the ability to observe the surgeries.

The relationships that were developed with the Vietnamese people and the participating physicians were especially important, since it was obvious that they appreciated having us as much as we appreciated being there. It is interesting to see the fond perception of the American people in Vietnam, and how there is little mention of the Vietnamese war. It is gratifying to see how much we can help achieve by educating surgeons from these countries.

During this experience, we were accompanied by Dr. Thuong, who trained in Vietnam and had continued his training with Dr. Hodges in Tennessee. When we returned to America, Dr. Thuong spent a week in New Jersey observing surgery and adding to his learning experience. I, in turn, felt fortunate to be able to share various aspects of our different cultures, including learning from Dr. Thuong the best meals from the local Vietnamese restaurant. I am proud to say that this mission trip was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and added great perspective to what is possible with the proper tools and education.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Every time she looked in the mirror, Lindsey* was reminded of her painful past. A crooked nose was the physical scar that stirred up emotions from a marriage shattered by domestic violence.

It’s stories like these that make me proud to be a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

When I first met Lindsey, a spirited woman from Brooklyn, I was overcome by her extremely positive attitude. Lindsey came into my office with a lopsided nose, caused by a broken nose she suffered during a dispute with her then-husband many years ago. Her scars were visible from the outside, but did not reflect how she felt on the inside. Lindsey felt emotionally and physically ready for rhinoplasty, and had a beautiful new outlook and plan for her life: to open a spa for other victims of domestic violence, so all women would have the opportunity to feel beautiful and whole again.

I connect with that sentiment – as I find it rewarding to help people feel good about themselves. Lindsey was a perfect candidate for the Academy’s FACE TO FACE Program. Her surgery was mostly to straighten her crooked nose, but I also repaired a deviated septum so she could breathe easier. (Deviated septums often accompany traumatic crooked noses.) I also softened a bump and narrowed a wide nasal tip that has always bothered her.

As you may know, the AAFPRS Foundation is the first surgical group to take a firm stand and become involved in assisting individuals of domestic violence break the cycle of violence, enhance their self-esteem and rebuild their lives. Many victims of domestic violence receive facial injuries and are not financially able to have these injuries adequately repaired. The AAFPRS offers consultation and surgery, pro-bono, to eligible individuals through FACE TO FACE: The National Domestic Violence Project.

Lindsey heard about the program through her divorce lawyer, and after years of going back and forth about making the initial call, finally reached out to us. On February 24, 2011, I performed the surgery and gave Lindsey a new nose, and what I hope was a new start to her life.

My best memory of Lindsey came when about one week post-procedure, I took her bandages off. I wouldn’t let her look until I cleaned her up, but when she looked in the mirror, she started crying. She said she finally felt beautiful again.

While Lindsey is still reminded of the past she feels that the more she talks about her story and helps others, the better she feels.

I hope you will share some of your own stories with the FACE TO FACE program, and invite you to submit your blog ideas to

-Dr. Pearlman

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.