Burnaby plastic surgeon Colin White recently returned from a rural village in India with a renewed faith in Canada’s health-care system, according to The Vancouver Sun.
“There’s three things I got out of this,” said White of his trip last month to Hansot, where he and 19 other health-care providers performed medical procedures on dozens of impoverished patients who would otherwise have gone without help.
“First and foremost, I love the opportunity to use my skills to help people who wouldn’t normally receive care. The second thing is you’re exposed to a new culture and country. And the last thing is that it really gives you perspective and makes me appreciate that I live and work in Canada so much more, knowing that we have a good health-care system and everyone gets quality care.”
White and his group volunteered with Operation Rainbow Canada, a non-profit medical services organization that provides free reconstructive surgery for cleft lip and cleft palate deformities, as well as burn reconstruction, to poor children and young adults in developing countries who can’t afford health care. ORC was founded in 1998 by Dr. Kimit Rai and to date has completed over 25 international missions, providing free surgery to over 2,000 patients.
During its 10-day trip to Hansot in November, the Vancouver-based surgical team — including three plastic surgeons, two anesthesiologists, a pediatrician and several nurses — performed 60 procedures on 40 patients.
“The group I went through is an established group that usually goes on a mission every six months,” said White. “This is my second mission. I went in 2010 to China.”
White said that while the goal and mandate of ORC is to operate on cleft lips and cleft palates, another common procedure is burn reconstruction, because the use of outdoor and open fires is very common in developing countries “so there tends to be a lot of burns.”
White said that in India he operated on a six-year-old boy who fell into a fire and was left with an arm fused to his chest from the burn. “If burnt tissue isn’t treated correctly it melts and heals together,” added White. “He couldn’t move his arm away from his body and he couldn’t straighten his elbow.”
In a four-hour operation, “we released all the skin web across the joints and took skin grafts and filled in areas that we removed. That was the surgery I was proudest of.” Another child White operated on was a 13-month-old girl with a complete cleft lip.
“The operation (took) 45 minutes and it was repaired completely. The patient comes in with an abnormal appearance, but after the surgery, there’s a very small scar in her lip that’s hidden on the natural line of the upper lip.”
White said the group fundraises to pay for each mission, which typically costs $60,000 to $80,000 for lodging, equipment, transportation and disposable equipment. “We pair up with a local hospital, a very small basic hospital.”
He said families often travel days from home to have their children treated. Without corrective surgery, children born with cleft lip and cleft palate deformities are often shunned, ostracized and denied schooling.
ORC also provides education and training to physicians and other health care professionals in the host countries, while Canadian medical residents accompanying the missions get invaluable hands-on experience.