Tag Archives: RealSelf Fellowship

RealSelf Fellowship Assists Project Medishare’s Haiti Efforts

For 15 years, Dr. Seth Thaller and his team with Project Medishare have taken humanitarian medical trips to Port Au Prince, Haiti, every quarter. Some trips have been postponed due to social, political, or environmental factors, but whenever the barriers clear, the Miami-based doctor and his team are back helping the community.

Dr. Thaller’s team has treated hundreds of patients on these trips. Most need surgery for cleft lips, cleft palates, or significant burn injuries, patients with issues so severe that they struggle to adapt to regular society. Patients just like the 38-year-old woman Dr. Thaller treated on his most recent visit to Haiti. The woman suffered from a cleft lip. She complained of breathing issues and had trouble eating. She talked about the shame she felt from her facial appearance and how often she noticed people staring. A mother of two, the woman dealt with the issue her entire life.

Now, the woman never has to be ashamed again.

The woman was one of 22 patients Dr. Thaller’s team operated on during a recent trip to Port Au Prince. Although the trip was a familiar one for Dr. Thaller, there was a change this trip. This time Dr. Thaller traveled as a member of the inaugural class of the RealSelf Fellowship. The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding for medical professionals donating their time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world. Project Medishare is entirely self-funded and relies on programs like the RealSelf Fellowship to make these trips possible.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is desperate need for improved medical care. Not only for reconstructive surgical care, but for even routine, basic healthcare. Patients travel from all over the country just for the chance to receive care from visiting doctors. The trips are not only vital to the patients who undergo operations, but also for training and improving the standard of care.

“We have definite plans to continue our enduring promise to our Haitian neighbors,” Dr. Thaller said in an interview with RealSelf.

The procedures Dr. Thaller and his team performed don’t just fix issues, they change lives. The conditions can be debilitating and fixing them can be a platform to return to society whether it’s a child returning to or starting school, or an adult getting back into the workforce.

To make a sustainable impact, the effort needs to go beyond performing a couple dozen surgeries once a quarter. That’s why education is such a focus of the trips. Dr. Thaller said his staff works with the local care providers to assist in pre- and post-operative care. They also work with local surgery residents.

“They were able to closely observe our surgeries, and we could teach them directly,” Dr. Thaller said.

“You will always get more from these trips then you are giving,” he said.

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.

RealSelf Fellow Raises the Level of Care in Nicaragua

The scene inside the hospital in Managua, Nicaragua, is a familiar one for Dr. Patrick Byrne. Dozens of young children need care for cleft lips, cleft palates, severe burns, and other issues. Some have traveled from other parts of the country–the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere–for a chance to receive care from visiting doctors.

A plastic surgeon in Baltimore, Dr. Byrne, started making humanitarian trips to Nicaragua in 2009. This time, there are a few familiar faces in the crowd. Three patients from a previous visit have returned. They aren’t seeking additional medical care. Instead, they came to thank the doctors who changed their lives.

Miguel is a young man who suffered severe burns. A lover of baseball, he was unable to play due to his injuries. That was until Miguel received a microvascular tissue transfer on his neck and chest to restore mobility and function. Now, Miguel is able to play baseball and hold down a steady job.

“It was just a smile and hug fest,” Dr. Byrne said in an interview with RealSelf.

Dr. Byrne has taken similar trips all over the world. In recent years, his efforts have been focused in Nicaragua. He is the co-director of the Greater Baltimore Cleft Lip and Palate team. His team has partnered with Aproquen to provide care to those in need and establish a standard of care comparable to what patients receive in the United States.

“It’s unbelievable how sophisticated our effort is now,” he said.

Photo courtesy: Dr. Patrick Byrne

In addition to performing cleft lip and palate surgeries, Dr. Byrne’s team has added dental care, nutrition, orthodontic care, speech therapy, and other services. 

It’s no longer a situation where visiting doctors parachute in and perform as many surgeries as possible. Dr. Byrne and his team are establishing guidelines, training local providers, and using technology to help provide aftercare. That includes a telemedicine program for speech therapy.

Dr. Byrne said the current operation is a “night and day” difference from when he first started visiting Nicaragua. Back then, he would see many poor outcomes from previous surgeries. Patients didn’t receive the full care they needed. Basic medical records were limited or nonexistent. 

“You see a kid who was operated on by some other team at some other time, and they look pretty bad,” Dr. Byrne said. “There are no op notes, no record, you have no idea who did what when. Now it’s pretty close to the type of clinic you’d see in the United States.”

Recent efforts have improved the sustainability of care. Dr. Byrne’s team trained a local physical therapist who has become better at cleft speech therapy than many speech therapists in the United States who rarely perform cleft therapy. The advances in speech therapy, complication rate, and overall success have been staggering.

On his most recent trip to Nicaragua in February, Dr. Byrne traveled as a RealSelf Fellow. The RealSelf Fellowship awards funding to medical professionals who donate time and expertise to deliver care and training in underserved communities around the world.

“The gift is really meaningful,” he said. “That goes a long way on a trip like this.”

Photo courtesy: Dr. Patrick Byrne

On this trip, Dr. Byrne operated on about 20 new patients, but the work is hardly complete. He and his team are still busy trying to elevate the standard of care and help establish a sustainable system by working with local hospitals to collect data, using technology to reduce the gap in care, and training local providers.

They are also planning to visit Nicaragua two times per year, up from one.

“Since we’ve been involved and developed all of these programs, word has gotten out,” Dr. Byrne said. “Families and doctors from all over Nicaragua send their kids to the group.

“It’s great, but we need to keep up with the demand.”

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.

Announcing the 5 RealSelf Fellowship Recipients for 2017

In October, we unveiled the first class of RealSelf Fellows to support reconstructive surgery efforts around the world. Now, we’re thrilled to announce the five 2017 RealSelf Fellowship recipients who will receive financial support to help fund life-changing humanitarian trips to underserved communities around the world.

The RealSelf Fellows deliver medical care and training in areas where surgical care was previously difficult to access. They work to make a meaningful impact that improves the quality of life and furthers the RealSelf mission of bringing confidence to people worldwide.

“We feel fortunate to be able to support medical humanitarians who are donating their time to better the lives of people across the globe,” said RealSelf Founder and CEO, Tom Seery. “From oculoplastic surgery training in Haiti, to advanced burn treatment training in Mozambique, to plastic and reconstructive surgery training in Tanzania and Mexico, this group of Fellows will have a lasting impact on the communities they visit, with their teachings continuing to give back long after their trips have ended.”

Here are the 2017 RealSelf Fellowship recipients (ordered by trip departure):

  • Dr. John F. Nigriny, Lebanon N.H., plastic surgeon traveling to Mozambique with ReSurge International on April 22, 2017.
  • Dr. Matthew Hansen, Perth, Australia, plastic surgeon traveling to Tanzania with Rafiki on May 12, 2017.
  • Dr. Jed H. Horowitz, Newport Beach, Calif., plastic surgeon traveling to Mexico with Plasticos Foundation on June 22, 2017.
  • Dr. Matheson A. Harris, Salt Lake City, oculoplastic surgeon traveling to Haiti with Charity Vision and LDS Charities on Aug. 27, 2017.
  • Dr. Oumar Coulibaly, Mali, physician traveling to Nepal with ReSurge International on Nov. 15, 2016.

The impact of these trips will be significant and long-lasting. The fellows will perform reconstructive surgeries, free of charge, for those who have suffered traumatic injuries or were born with correctable deformities. They will also pass along some of their expertise, and help create sustainable solutions, by providing training to local surgeons.

In addition to the five Fellow winners, more than 20 other applicants will also receive recognition. RealSelf will donate $250 to the nonprofit those applicants are working with, while Seery will make a matching $250 donation.

The RealSelf Fellowship is open to physicians and surgical care team members who volunteer their medical services or serve as volunteer educators to advance the skills of local doctors and staff in a range of medical needs.

RealSelf evaluates applications annually. The 2018 application deadline is Dec. 1, 2017. Award recipients will be notified Jan. 15, 2018. To learn more about the fellowship or apply online visit www.realself.com/giving/fellowship.

RealSelf Fellow Changes Lives in Guatemala

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.

Why Guatemala?

Photo courtesy of the Plasticos Foundation

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.

8 RealSelf Fellows to Support Reconstructive Surgery Efforts Around the World

This summer we announced our new RealSelf Fellowship to help fund trips for medical providers who deliver care and training in highly underserved communities worldwide.

Now we’re excited to present our first class of RealSelf Fellows, eight physicians dedicated to humanitarianism and bringing their knowledge of reconstructive surgical care and sustainable solutions to improve the overall quality of life in these locales.

Here are the RealSelf Fellowship recipients (in order of their trip’s departure date):

The impact of these trips will be far-reaching, primarily focused on providing reconstructive surgery free of charge for children and adults with traumatic injuries and correctable deformities. In addition, the teams will work to educate host-country doctors and medical staff to perform these complex procedures, as well as providing additional training in anesthesia, pediatrics, speech therapy, and nutrition.

The RealSelf Fellowship is an ongoing program open to physicians and surgical-care team members who will volunteer medical services or serve as volunteer educators to advance the skills of local doctors and staff. Fellowships can cover a wide range of needs, including hand surgery, burn reconstruction, microsurgery, and advanced cleft techniques, as well as anesthesia, nursing, orthodontics, and physical and hand therapy.

Giving back is at the heart of culture at RealSelf, and as we continue to grow, we are determined to find ways to use our scale for good, so our impact grows with us.

RealSelf evaluates applications twice per year. The next phase of applications for trips taking place after April 1 is open now, with a deadline of Feb. 1, 2017. Medical professionals interested in participating are invited to view eligibility requirements and complete the online application.

How We Choose to Give Back: CEO Tom Seery Talks About the New RealSelf Fellowship

At RealSelf, we view giving back as our social responsibility, core to our beliefs and culture. A guiding principle to our support of local charities and international medical volunteers is to seek out meaningful ways to make a difference in restoring hope, confidence, and a positive future for those who are most vulnerable and underserved.

We’re excited about the next step in our global giving efforts: the RealSelf Fellowship. This new program expands on our ongoing commitment to support physicians and other medical providers who donate their time and expertise in developing countries.

The origination of the RealSelf Fellowship concept

Particularly in India, we saw firsthand that when a person has terrible body or facial burns, it’s an incredibly challenging injury.

Contractures and injuries resulting from a severe burn are certainly improved after undergoing treatment by a visiting volunteer team of reconstructive surgery experts. But a single surgery does not restore a person to a normal path of life. Burn victims require numerous surgical procedures, often dozens, over long periods of time, plus physical therapy.

The need for reconstructive surgery in the world is vast, and the impact from our annual medical trip sponsorship is subscale with respect to the global problem. Billions of people in the world suffer from reparable conditions like cleft palates and hand injuries. This led us to ask, how can we have a broader, sustained impact in these communities?

Our fellowship concept arose from the fact that every day thousands of doctors engage directly with our online community. The fellowship is a vehicle by which we can help, encourage, and share stories about the humanitarian work these caregivers are doing and planning to do.

The RealSelf Fellowship program goal

Beyond increasing the capacity for medical care in the developing world, we want to raise awareness by telling more stories, like we’ve done in Vietnam and India. It’s not to campaign or raise money with our patient audience. We hope this opens people’s minds and hearts.

As we kick off the RealSelf Fellowship program, our goal is to award six grants, at minimum. In 2017, we hope to double this commitment.

Why the RealSelf Fellowship targets needs in developing nations

The most dramatic lack of care exists in developing countries. Zambia is a country the size of Texas, with about 14.5 million people and only one reconstructive plastic surgeon available to help people with injuries, congenital disorders, you name it.

Compounding these challenges are the disparities that exist among the most vulnerable populations of the world, people who have no resources, no money — they are really living on life’s edge. They have to cook meals over open fires with dangerous equipment. The injury rates and types of injuries are something we haven’t seen here for generations. That combination of factors makes the fellowship incredibly needed.

However, if a fellowship application came in from a place like Appalachia, and we became aware that there was an equivalently dire situation happening, we’d consider it. We’re not going to be close-minded, but generally we’re looking to help where there’s the most severe lack of access and quality of care.

Living our values  

One of our core values is to be continuously accelerating our rate of learning. Our fellowship program will, by design, offer us a unique window into the world of giving, humanitarianism, and the medical needs of people all over the globe. I can only imagine we’ll be humbled by what we learn.

Learn more about the RealSelf Fellowship and how to apply here.