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.