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Medical Missions For Children Help India's Young With Congenital Deformities

Nirmala Garimella

Before the year   2010 ends , a group of 15 to 40 volunteers, including surgeons, dentists, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other medical and administrative staff will travel to city of Phalodi  in Rajasthan, India on a ten day trip. Their mission – to provide corrective and surgical procedures on approximately 50 children suffering with severe congenital deformities such as cleft lip and palate, microtia ( absence of the ear ) and severe burns.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the MMFC or the Medical Mission for Children, a nonprofit based in Boston will be conducting these procedures in Phalodi, a small town in the midst of a huge desert. The group gets its support from the lone hospital in the area, International Human Benefits services hospital ( HBS) that operates out of a single surgical room with only two beds.

 Dr. Helen John -Kelly  is a pediatric gastroenterologist from PA and has worked in the capacity of the team pediatrician with MMFC for the past 6 years. In addition, she is also the team leader along with Boston based Dr. Seema Byatti for the India mission to Phalodi , Rajasthan. On her involvement in the India Program she said “I have been to India on 3 missions. I was born in India but raised elsewhere. I went to India for my medical school ( Madras Medical College).I have always wanted to give back to the community since the community provided me a good medical education”. MMFC provided her an opportunity to do just that. On the mission, she says, “we provide surgical care to children with cleft lips , palates ,and other facial abnormalities like nevus. We screen, operate and recover these patients with some local help. Patients travel from the far outreaches of Rajasthan and some come as far as Jaisalmer”.

Preparation for the trip begins about 6-7 months in advance. The team leaders work closely and keep in direct contact with the local  coordinator. The local hospital advertises about 3-4 months in advance about the impending mission. Before operations begin, MMFC volunteers screen as many as 200 children. Families hear about MMFC through word-of-mouth and other channels; in some cases parents will carry their child for days and countless miles to be considered for surgery.  After the screening process is complete, the MMFC medical staff performs an average of 50 to 75 surgical procedures and 75 to 150 dental procedures including cleft of the lip and palate surgical repair; microtia (absence of the ear) reconstruction surgery; burn victim tissue replacement, dental work, speech and swallowing therapy, and other congenital deformities.

Says Dr Kelly,“We continue providing this free service to patients with the above mentioned deformities and will do so as long as there is a need. We also teach the local staff and families about wound care etc”. Not only does MMFC provide these healthcare professionals with the most advanced medical knowledge, they leave behind equipment and supplies as well.  This ensures that even after the mission is over, the care continues.

How would Dr Kelly like the local Indian community in the US to be involved in this effort? “We would like to see the Indian community in Boston be aware of the work and ask for their support in seeing this mission grow and hopefully add more sites in rural India. Indian surgeons do offer the same surgeries that we do locally but the service is not free. As you well know, many of these families cannot afford to eat everyday”.

Sonia Pasters, Executive Director and Liz Desmarais, of MMC work tirelessly at the Woburn office of Medical Missions for Children. The newly acquired office  is well equipped with all surgical instruments donated by area hospitals and even have sufficient medicines and other medical supplies that is needed for these missions. MMFC launches between 12-13 missions per year in other under served parts of the world. Each mission lasts an average of 7-14 days and costs between $35,000 –$ 45,000.  For more details and to support the mission go to http://www.mmfc.org/




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