Humanitarian Plastic Surgery
A Letter From Dr J
Dear patients and friends,
Surgery doesn’t just change patients’ appearance. I’ve seen internal changes which warmed my heart, like the return of optimism or a positive shift in outlook that were just waiting to come out. I’m grateful that through my work, I can be the agent who released all that positivity into the world. Lives are similarly changed like this here right here in Beverly Hills too, but surgeries performed for the less fortunate bring a type of newfound hope to people who thought their lives would never get better.
This is why I volunteer.
Doctors are blessed with the resources (though not always the time) to volunteer both at home and abroad. I seize every opportunity I can to perform reconstruction on the faces, hands and bodies of these patients who would often benefit from what we consider simple, routine surgery. For example, treatment for cleft lip and palate is usually begun at birth. Just closing the lip is not advanced work, but in the developing world this and other simple corrective surgeries aren’t always available.
Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
Living with a cleft lip or cleft lip and palate is tough on kids and adults in every country. Different cultures ascribe different meanings - sometimes even supernatural ones – to the birth defect, but the cause is still unknown and not conclusively linked to genetics or any known behaviors during pregnancy. The cause is mere bad luck. Given the teasing, along with added difficulty of learning to talk and eat, it’s extremely, heartbreakingly bad luck indeed.
Burn Scars/Other Scars
Cleft lip and palate correction surgeries are just the beginning. Naturally, the burns and other scars I sometimes encounter are extremely tough on victims as well. The worst part for victims with scarring is often the constant reminder of the trauma and pain in their past that led to the scars.
Polydactyly, or living with extra fingers or too many toes can be deceptively debilitating as the extra toes can make walking difficult, and extra fingers can hinder the performance of day-to-day tasks.
Giving back sometimes allows me to travel. This section includes photos from my most recent trip to Peru, where I was lucky enough to see some of the most breathtaking and historic sites in the world, like Machu Picchu and The Inca Trail. The focus of my trip wasn’t on sightseeing however. I was there to be a reconstructive and plastic surgeon for the people of the Ayacucho region of the Southern Andes.
I consider myself lucky to have been there when they needed help. By way of an example, here’s a story:
One day at the General Hospital in Ayacucho, I was just finishing up a cleft lip surgery when the head of the hospital told me about an emergency case. A toddler had just been attacked by a vicious dog. The child was in recovery and expected to keep his health, but his face was going to undergo the usual treatment: stop the bleeding and stitch the wounds. To do this would have scarred him permanently and perhaps irreversibly.
I was able to operate. It was a challenging operation involving subtle and delicate tissue repair, but at the conclusion of the surgery I was confident that the boy would have a normal life. I didn’t know that a local TV news crew had gotten wind of the story too. Apparently, all of Ayacucho was touched by the story of the lucky young dog attack victim, and I was unprepared for cameras and microphones. The boy’s mother was especially thankful to know that her son’s face was going to be okay.
Even though I’m in a demanding profession, it’s always a pleasure to perform surgeries like these in my hometown, or wherever I can be of service. I can’t always see the results, but I remember every patient.
Dr. Payam Jarrah-Nejad