Abandoned Children Get Fabulous Faces And Shot At Normal Life
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“Your face is your calling card to the world,” begins Dr. Peter A. Adamson’s new book, Fabulous Faces, which focuses on the motivations and transformations of more than 30 of his patients. While their primary reason is cosmetic and stems from self-esteem issues, the international leader in facial plastic surgery is also involved with humanitarian surgical programs in developing countries benefitting children with facial deformities.
Ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of Fabulous Faces (Osler Wood) goes to the Canadian Foundation for Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, headquartered in Toronto and founded in 1996.
Since then, the non profit organization, of which Adamson is president, has done 21 Face To Face missions overseas and operated on more than a thousand children, says Adamson.
“We’ve had over 90 children who were orphans with facial deformities that have been adopted,” he says proudly. Others have been returned to their families.
During the most recent Face To Face mission to Ekaterinburg, Russia, a team of seven surgeons did 72 operations. Missions are affiliated at all times with state-sponsored institutions.
“The children are living in a state hospital or an orphanage and they’ve been placed there,” Melanie Lovering, president of Philanthropy Partners which manages the Foundation, tells Samaritanmag.
“They’ve either been surrendered by their family or their family just cannot manage their child’s conditions and the children live at these centres. They’re specifically designed, state-sponsored centres that deal with children with these problems.”
The deformities are typically the result of birth defects, illness, war, accidents, abuse, a range of reasons.
“There’s a survival-of-the-fittest reality to life here that many in the West would probably find disturbing,” Adamson writes about the orphanage on page 231 of the book. “The sad fact is that parents, especially the heads of families living in poverty, can’t cope with deformed children. It’s not surprising that most of the newly arrived children have problems that go well beyond the physical. Many are withdrawn and slow to develop. Some don’t, or can’t, speak. They all hope to find families. Progress here is measured in small increments.”
Adamson, who has had a respected practice in Toronto since 1981, entered the medical field as a way to “give something back,” he says. He studied head and neck surgery at the University of Toronto and received the McLaughlin Fellowship to study cosmetic facial surgery at Tulane University in New Orleans. Beyond changing the lives of his patients, he also gave back to his profession by contributing to medical literature and teaching students and surgeons. Then, in 1992, through a set of “serendipitous” circumstances, he was given the opportunity to go beyond what his everyday medical practice presented.
“Some people in Washington [D.C] when I was heading up the American Academy [of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery] heard about this orphanage [at Bonum Centre] in [Yekaterinburg] Russia where they had all these children with facial deformities and they couldn’t be adopted because of these deformities,” Adamson tells Samaritanmag.
“So we thought, ‘Gee, let’s send a team over to this particular orphanage, repair these children’s facial deformities and then perhaps they can get adopted.’ It was just because people knew people and a light bulb flashed on and they said, ‘Let’s do this.’ All the doctors initially paid their own way so everything was out of the doctors own pockets.”
On that first mission, they operated on over a hundred children, Adamson says. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which established the Face To Face program that year, to date has performed surgeries on children in China, Cuba, Bosnia, Southeast Asia and central America, in addition to Russia.
In 1996, one of Adamson’s generous and wealthy patients, said she would like to help him set up a Canadian Foundation for Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “The doctors don’t have to pay anything now,” says Adamson. “We’re able to cover their airfares and visas and the cost of shipping equipment and buying equipment and supplies. Those kinds of things our foundation covers.”
Not only do the surgeons donate their time — usually a week or more — but so do the nurses, speech pathologists, and anesthesiologists, along with the translators. Lovering says each Face to Face mission costs between $35,000 and $50,000 and there are three a year.
“We have a small endowment, but it’s not large enough to fund all the missions that are taking place,” she says. Additional money comes from private donations.
While the foundation is Canadian, the surgeons come from all over.
“Dr. Adamson’s goal is to attract the best and the brightest surgeons to the missions,” Lovering says. “When they go over, they not only operate on the children but they do it with the local team. So the local team gets a chance to learn the newest techniques from their North American colleagues. And there are translators that are hired to work full time so that there’s no loss of information. They will also hold seminars and sessions so that they get the benefit of the learning long after the doctors have gone home. “
That is what distinguishes the Face To Face, believes Adamson.
“We don’t go, like many medical missions, and just take a group of western surgeons, do a lot of operations and go home,” he explains. “We actually work first with the local doctors and we say, ‘What kinds of problems do you have? What kinds of patients do you need treated? What operations? What tools? What equipment do you need?’ and then I go out and get those specific people, so we’re helping them. We’re not saying, ‘This is what we’re going to bring.’ We say, ‘What do you need?’ and then we’ll bring it.
“So I’m not taking younger doctors who are maybe not as experienced, who want to experience these countries on complex issues; I’m taking very experienced leaders around the world who will go and then they can teach [the local doctors] and then [the patients] are getting the very best care. So it’s that old adage, we’re teaching a man to fish; we’re not giving a man the fish. And that’s really what’s distinguishes us.”
The Canadian Foundation for Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is now expanding to include social work in order to meet the needs of the local surgeons. The mission also travels to Saratov, Russia. In December, Adamson went to Guatemala, Mexico, for a few days to look into establishing a mission.
“We’re hoping in the next two or three years we’re going to have about five missions and decide our next goal.”
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.