I have spent the past week in Accra volunteering with an organization called Operation Smile during its mission to Ghana to fix cleft lips and palates. Basically, exactly the sort of thing you would expect to be doing in Peace Corps. Children and adults of all ages were bussed to Accra from the various regions of the country in the hopes of getting the reconstructive surgery. Operation Smile provides money for transportation, lodging, two meals a day, and free surgery for all of those who qualify. Days 1 and 2 are for registration and screening, Day 3 is the creation of the OR schedule, and Days 4-8 are all surgery all day. Volunteers helped out at the shelter and at the hospital, entertaining patients, running charts, transporting people back and forth for surgery, and distributing food. It’s nice, because we truly get to know the patients and see the direct impact the surgery has on each individual.
Most of my time was dedicated to the shelter, but I did get to go to the hospital and observe a surgery! Yup, I gowned up, put on my shower cap, face mask, and booties and walked right into the OR.
There were two rooms with multiple surgeries going on in each at all times. I peered over the surgeons shoulder as he mapped out where he was going to cut and got to it. With cleft lips, all of the tissue for the lip already exists; it is just in the wrong place. He cut the lip open and searched around in there until he found the tissue from both sides. Then he pulled the pieces together and began the stitching. This was my favorite part because right before my eyes a mangled face became a work of art. The surgeons precisely placed the stitches, pulling each tight to create an almost seamless new lip. Any squeamishness I thought I might experience was completely overpowered by the beauty of the process and the success of the end result. Plus I got to see the inside of an OR before Jared… medical school, shmedical school.
111 surgeries were completed over the week, and I am sure that each of those was a life changes. All in all, a great week. And in honor of Operation Smile: