As a volunteer with Project H.A.N.D.S, Vancouver plastic surgeon Dr. Mathew Mosher uses his refined skills and extensive experience to perform needed surgeries for the less-fortunate. Guatemala is a large and beautiful country, but many impoverished residents live in remote areas with no access or financial means to afford health care. He joined a team of doctors, nurses and other Project H.A.N.D.S. volunteers who have been making this annual trip, which is usually scheduled for the spring, for more than 3 years. It is one of the many opportunities Dr. Mosher has to assist the people of Guatemala by providing medical assistance to those in need.
“…a very emotional and gratifying experience
to be able to help these patients.”
Project H.A.N.D.S. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Mission
On their first trip dedicated to plastic and reconstructive surgery, the volunteer team members succeeded in completing 75 procedures on 40 patients during a 10-day period. Most of the patients were children who had sustained severe burns at a young age and had never received treatment. The results of these injuries were deformities and loss of function from their extensive scars. Other patients included young and old indigenous people with congenital deformities, benign tumours, hand and wrist injuries, and a variety of other ailments.
Dr. Mosher reflects on a previous trip: “Doing surgery in this rural environment was both challenging and rewarding. Most patients only spoke one of the many Mayan dialects and had to travel by foot and by bus for many hours to get to the surgery clinic. Many of the stories and circumstances associated with these patients were heartbreaking and hard to imagine for those of us so fortunate to live and work in North America. However, despite their poverty, the Guatemalan patients were engaging, joyous and so grateful for our help. This trip really affected me as I thought about my own children and quality of our lives compared to our patients in Guatemala.”
Dr. Mosher recently returned to Vancouver from this year’s Project H.A.N.D.S. volunteer mission to Guatemala. He remains humbled by the Guatemalan people who travel for miles and wait for days without complaint to see the team of volunteer surgeons and medical staff. “This was my 3rd volunteer surgical trip to Guatemala,” says Dr. Mosher, “so I felt more prepared for the severity of the surgical problems we might encounter, the limitations of the resources available, and the emotional impact of the patients’ stories.” Thanks to Dr. Mosher’s efforts, a 3rd-year plastic surgery resident from the University of British Columbia joined the team for the first time. He believes someone embarking on a career in plastic and reconstructive surgery will greatly benefit from the experience of practicing without access to advanced technology and the other trappings of modern medicine. “You can appreciate your own abilities and your true motives for pursuing this career.”
Healing Children’s Severe Injuries and Restoring Functionality
One patient, Escarleta, is a young girl who sustained burns to her hand that caused two of her fingers to curl into her palm. After her surgery, she courageously made the effort to personally say “gracias” to Dr. Mosher for restoring her hand.
Many of the children’s injuries resulted from living in a dirt-floored shack with an open fire for cooking. For example, a young patient had his arm fused to his chest for several years after a severe scalding injury as an infant. The team succeeded in separating his arm from his chest, which should restore normal function once the tissues have healed. “I am optimistic this young man will be throwing a ball around in a few more weeks,” says Dr. Mosher.
Reflecting on his volunteer work, Dr. Mosher describes it as “a very emotional and gratifying experience to be able to help these patients.” In addition to providing the surgery, the team established relationships with two plastic surgeons from Guatemala City. The surgeons appreciated having the doctors, nurses, and other volunteers assist with those patients in rural areas, who would be unable to receive treatment in larger hospitals where plastic surgery is available.
After having made such a difference for so many patients in a single visit, Dr. Mosher strives to travel annually with Project H.A.N.D.S. from his Vancouver area plastic surgery practice. For more information about this volunteer mission, visit the Project H.A.N.D.S. website.