As one of our first RealSelf Fellows, we were excited to talk with Dr. Larry S. Nichter about his recent volunteer trip. The Orange County plastic surgeon traveled to Guatemala and Cuba with the Plasticos Foundation in November.
This visit to Guatemala is Dr. Nichter’s latest in a long-standing relationship among Plasticos, Dr. Nichter, and the local medical community. In Guatemala, Dr. Ernesto Cofino was introduced to Plasticos through his local nonprofit group, Angeles en la Terra (Earth Angels). From their first meeting in the 1990s, Dr. Nichter was impressed by Dr. Cofino’s commitment to helping his fellow Guatemalans access much-needed reconstructive surgery.
Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, but there is no plastic surgery training program. Dr. Nichter shares RealSelf’s belief that medical professionals can make a dramatic difference in these communities by helping build sustainable surgical resources. By working with local doctors, these efforts also help build self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on foreign care.
On trips to Guatemala, Dr. Nichter works with Dr. Cofino to show him how to correct progressively more difficult deformities. During Dr. Nichter’s last visit, Plasticos received a specific request to show doctors there how to make an ear.
Treating a condition called microtia, which causes children to be born without an ear, is one of the most complex reconstructive surgeries that can be performed. But with the help of the Plasticos doctors, Dr. Cofino performed his first procedure to treat this condition by the end of this trip.
Teach a Man to Fish or Build an Ear
“To have a significant impact you need to foster training of local medical personnel and support them to become independent over time,” Dr. Nichter said. “Just like the Chinese proverb, ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.’
“After we leave, surgeons continue to operate on many children with conditions they were once fearful [of] or could not treat,” he added. “That way our efforts are leveraged, multiplying the number of patients taken care of.”
Eventually, Dr. Nichter hopes to work with Dr. Cofino to start the first plastic surgery residency program to tackle the immense demand for reconstructive surgery in Guatemala. For now, he’s satisfied with the knowledge that he’s changing young lives.
“To have a child at that young age desire and look forward to the surgery and try to smile through the discomfort,” Dr. Nichter said. “Tells volumes.”
What is the RealSelf Fellowship?
The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding to medical professionals who donate their time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world.
Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.