It started in 2006 when Janet Stookey a fellow OR nurse, invited me (or maybe I invited myself) along on an Indonesian surgical trip she was organizing. On arrival there was an elderly lady, I think was expecting to die from a ruptured appendix, as the surgeon there had died two weeks earlier from rabies. We hurriedly unpacked what we needed, removed her appendix and I was hooked. The years passed and I longed to do more international surgical work so I organized a dental trip, and then another surgical trip to Indonesia. All of these trips were made with the aid of International Friends of Compassion, http://www.ifcus.org/.
The next step in my journey came when I had the good fortune to get introduced to Dr. Joseph Clawson http://www.jpclawsonmedicalmissionsfoundation.org/. I was lucky enough to travel with and assist him doing cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries. From the Philippines to Zambia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was able to travel to up to three countries a year with him. I was touched by the impact we were able to have in improving life for so many people.
My heart soars each time I think of the joy on the faces of parents and siblings seeing their loved one for the first time after corrective surgery. I remember the excitement in the voice of the five year old waking up from anesthesia after a cleft lip repair turning to her grandmother and saying, “NOW I can go to school”. There was a father with a huge smile and tears in his eyes, seeing his 21-year-old son after he had his cleft lip and cleft palate repair and saying, “now HE can marry”. The stories are many, the emotions deep, the joy indescribable. I feel I’m the lucky one to be able to be a part of these surgical trips.
So, Uganda…Last April after a week of cleft lip and cleft palate repairs in the Congo, I allowed myself three days in Rwanda to see the silverback gorillas. I had a driver, Enos for those three days. He was interested in what had brought me to Africa and I shared some before and after photos of the patients we had just treated in the Congo. He wondered out loud why there were no cleft lips in his country, Uganda. I assured him they were there, as cleft lips/palates occur anywhere from 1 in every 500-700 births but because people do not have the opportunity for repairs, they hide from the public eye. Before dropping me off at the airport, Enos asked if I would come to his country and help his people. Who could say no? So I told him what it would take to get a team there, like a doctor to sponsor us, a hospital that would let us use their operating room, housing, transportation etc. I told him if he was willing to do some ground work in his country, I’d do what I could to bring a team there. And now, in just a few short weeks, we will be in Uganda.