Tag Archives: RealSelf Stories

RealSelf Fellow Teaches Through Surgery in Vietnam

When Dr. Joseph Gruss set out on a recent humanitarian medical trip to Vietnam, he did so not expecting to spend much, if any, time in the operating room. The trip was designed to be a teaching trip, where he could connect with local surgeons and give lectures. The operating room turned out to be the perfect classroom.

“The problem is when you get to these countries, a lot of the local people don’t speak good English, so it’s really hard to teach all the time without translators,” Dr. Gruss said in an interview with RealSelf. “I found the best way to teach was in the operating room.”

And teach he did. A lot.

“Even though I was not supposed to do many surgeries … I eventually did five cases a day for five days,” Dr. Gruss said. “To do five major cases in a day is absolutely impossible in the U.S.”

Dr. Gruss explains a procedure in the operating room. Photo via ReSurge.

Most of the patients were children in need of facial reconstruction. The majority of the surgeries were to repair cleft lips or cleft palates. Dr. Gruss said it would take at least a month in the United States to perform as many surgeries as he did in five days. He credited the efficiency of the process in Vietnam. From the nurses and anesthesiologists who got patients set up quickly, to the lack of road blocks in the process that doctors often face in the United States.

“Myself and my resident were actually blown away by how efficient the operating rooms run there,” Dr. Gruss said.

Dr. Gruss noted that while the process is much quicker than it is in the United States, it isn’t because of a lack of safety. All of the appropriate safety measures are taken with each patient. Dr. Gruss said the level of care in Vietnam was fairly sophisticated compared to many countries. There just isn’t enough of it. He visited one of the few major hospitals. Many patients live long distances away and struggle to travel for the care they need.

Dr. Gruss made this trip with a group from ReSurge, who are working to expand and raise the level of care in countries like Vietnam. He did so with a sponsorship from RealSelf as one of the members of the initial class for the RealSelf Fellowship. RealSelf Fellows are awarded $7,500 to help fund nonprofit-sponsored humanitarian trips with the potential to further the RealSelf mission to bring confidence to people worldwide.

He is planning a return trip to Vietnam, and hoping to be able to see some of the patients he operated on.

Until then, he’s continuing to do what he initially set out to do; teach. He has maintained relationships with some of the doctors he met in Vietnam, and frequently answers their questions via email.

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

RealSelf Joins the 2017 Seattle Pride Parade

The 43rd annual Seattle Pride Parade will be Sunday, June 25, and for the first time, RealSelf will be a sponsoring participant. More than 30 RealSelfers, family members, and friends will march to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Planning for the event was a team effort with more than 40 employees collaborating on the process. While this will be the first time RealSelf participates as a company, there were plenty of Seattle Pride veterans to help with preparations.

The result is RealPride.

RealPride means supporting our community and people’s ability to be proud of themselves as individuals. It means love for all. It means celebrating joy and happiness. And it means paving the way for the next generation to be out and proud.

Courtesy: Seattle Pride

RealSelf will join more than 200 other organizations as sponsoring participants. The RealSelf team will be decked out in ’90s themed wardrobes, and passing out goodies for the crowd.

Participating in the event is another opportunity for the RealSelf Local Giving team to support the local community. Recently the Local Giving team prepared groceries with the Food Lifeline Hunger Solution Center and helped with a spring cleanup of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood

The Seattle Pride Parade begins at 11 a.m. PT. The parade will run along 4th Avenue in Downtown Seattle, beginning at Union Street and running north to Denny Way, ending near the Seattle Center and Space Needle.

Want to work for one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring! Apply to join our team today.

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 Joins Food Lifeline During National Volunteer Week

Every year, millions of pounds of food goes to waste in Seattle. We’re not talking about the avocado you forgot in the back of your fridge. We’re talking about good food from restaurants, grocery stores, manufacturers, and farmers.

Food Lifeline works to reduce that waste, rescuing more than 44 million pounds of food last year alone, and redirecting it to more than 275 food banks, shelters, and meal programs.

Sorting and repacking that much food requires a lot of help, and this week the RealSelf Local Giving team chipped in. After learning about the Food Lifeline operation and touring the facility, a few of our employees got to work sorting pears.

A lot of pears.

Additionally, as part of National Volunteer Week, it was perfect timing for the RealSelf team to support our community. Their efforts will go beyond Volunteer Week, and they are already planning philanthropic activities for summer and fall.

Food Lifeline has flexible and family-friendly volunteer hours. There are opportunities during the day and at night during the week and on the weekend. The robust operation is part of the reason why Food Lifeline is able to provide 90,000 meals every day, accounting for 30 percent of the meals served by food programs in Seattle.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Food Lifeline, you can register on their website.

Want to work for one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring! Apply to join our team today.

#RealSelfLife: 21 Questions With Amber From Sales

If you met Amber for the first time, it might be hard to see her as anything other than a star member of the RealSelf sales team.

One of our most successful doctor advisors, Amber has had many roles at RealSelf, including digital marketing specialist in PR, and an audience-engagement specialist on our Community team.

We know that Amber is making the most of the opportunity to grow at RealSelf, but what do we really know about her?

Amber sat down with us for the first installment of 21 questions with your RealSelf co-workers. Let’s get to know her better.

What is your favorite snack in the office?
String cheese or beer

What was your favorite TV show growing up?
Dick Van Dyke

Where do you want to go on your next vacation?
Indonesia

Where is your favorite place to go for lunch in Pioneer Square?
Pho Fuchsia

If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?
Invisibility

Who are three people alive or dead you’d want to have dinner with?
Oprah, Beyoncé, and Chelsea Handler

iPhone or Android?
iPhone

Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram

What is one skill you wish you had?
Singing

When you were 5, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer

What is your favorite food?
Popcorn

What is one thing you’ve never done in Seattle that you want to do?
Scuba dive

What three things do you keep in your fridge or pantry at all times?
Cholula hot sauce, Parmesan cheese, and wine

What is your favorite holiday?
Halloween

What toppings do you like on your pizza?
Meat, garlic, and extra cheese

Do you pronounce GIF with a hard G or like GIF or a soft G like JIF?
GIF

Who is your favorite musician?
Prince

Is a hot dog a sandwich?
No, it’s more like a taco

What was your first job?
Selling Dish Network and DirecTV in a creepy call center

What is one thing in the world you think is underrated?
The cinematic film Madagascar

Which one of your co-workers would make the best president?
Kirsten Mann

Want to work for one of Seattle’s best companies? We’re hiring! Apply to join our team today.

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.

ReSurge Transformations Gala 2015

RealSelf Supports Global Humanitarian Efforts at the 2015 ReSurge Transformations Gala

It’s not every day you get to wear a ballgown to work. But that’s exactly what I did the night of Saturday, October 10, when RealSelf CEO Tom Seery generously invited me and five other RealSelf employees to join him at the annual ReSurge International Transformations Gala in San Francisco.

One of the cultural values we’re most proud of at RealSelf is the company’s commitment to giving back. As a partner of the medical aid nonprofit ReSurge, RealSelf has raised more than $159,000 to bring reconstructive surgical care to the developing world, including a trip last year to Vietnam. This year’s destination: Dehradun, India.

When Tom first announced the 2015 trip, he had a surprise: One RealSelf staff member would accompany RealSelf TV’s executive producer to see ReSurge’s work in person. Tom’s the first to admit he was surprised by the overwhelming response for an opportunity that, while unarguably life-changing, involves thousands of miles of travel, weeks away from the office, and (perhaps most daunting) airports over Thanksgiving weekend. Despite the huge commitment, 14 people applied.

ReSurge Transformations Gala 2015

RealSelf staff members Elizabeth and Grayson join CEO Tom Seery at the gala.

Weeks of deliberations narrowed the field to a final choice (you’ll hear more in coming months), but our leadership team was so wowed by the response that they offered the others a consolation prize. That’s how I and five other employees found ourselves at a three-course dinner at the Four Seasons in downtown San Francisco.

While not everyone could make it, those who did will tell you the 2015 Transformation Gala lived up to its name. Throughout the evening, ReSurge shared images of men, women, and children whose lives have been forever changed by one short visit from a plastic surgeon. Former patients took to the stage to share their stories, and at one point, the auctioneer had to pause to thank the room for the overwhelming outpouring of support.

Ultimately, ReSurge raised hundreds of thousands of dollars — some of it from our own table — to fund transformative work all over the world.

It was an evening that celebrated what many of us at RealSelf already hold dear: the transformative power of surgery and how confidence can impact a person’s quality of life.

RealSelf Stories: How This Doctor Advisor Became a Patient

When Debra Gravelle joined RealSelf in 2012 as a doctor advisor, she was a cosmetic surgery skeptic. Three years later, she’s undergoing her own inspiring transformation, starting “from the head down” with laser resurfacing, Voluma, and Botox. In December, just before her 60th birthday, she’ll get a tummy tuck with liposuction and fat transfers, followed by a breast lift. She’s documenting it all in her RealSelf review, and in a forthcoming “‘Sexy at 60” mini-documentary by our RealSelf video team.

We asked Debra what she loves about her role of doctor advisor, why this was the moment for her to make such big personal changes, and how her perspective on cosmetic surgery has evolved.


Debra

Debra Gravelle, Senior RealSelf Advisor, looking fabulous.

I loved everybody I talked to during my RealSelf interview, but I had a lot of questions about what I thought about plastic surgery. I just didn’t get that these were things people were doing to increase their confidence and happiness level — I thought it was about vanity. I didn’t realize the depths of change that can happen in a person when they go through it.

When I read the stories on RealSelf, I started to understand that it’s more about how you feel inside than how you look, that those things are so connected.

What I love about the role of doctor advisor is that it’s a combination of relationship building and helping doctors with marketing. I didn’t realize how satisfying that customer service piece of the role would become for me, building that trust with doctors and giving them a chance to give back to the community as they build their practice.

In most cases, we’re dealing with their marketing and office staff, more than with the doctors themselves. I love getting that chance to support a practice, almost like one of their team members, coaching them on how to build their presence on our site. When you see them get a new review, you get excited for them, because you know last week you talked about the importance of asking for reviews. You see the results of your advising first-hand. You get to share in their successes.

I have one doctor who told me he had two people chatting in his waiting room, and they realized they’d both been on RealSelf. They’d been commenting on the same post, and they knew each other’s usernames. They laughed and said, “We’ve been on RealSelf together!”

It’s also great being part of the Advisor team. There’s a lot of support that goes on. I’ve been here nearly three years, and I have more than 30 years of experience in helping people through coaching, advising, or selling. I love to see the new people have success with their doctors, hearing them say, “I told my doctor to do this, and two weeks later he’s getting more inquiries.” I love that!

It’s scary to share my own treatment journey on RealSelf because I’m not anonymous. I have posted a couple pictures that I would never send to a fellow employee and say, “Look at this picture!” But anybody at RealSelf can see it. I’m not a prude by any means, but I’m aware that I’m not anonymous, that I have adult children who might go, “Oh my God, Mother.” I’m aware I have a granddaughter who will see those photos when she gets older. So I’m being tasteful about what I put up, but I still want other people to see and share and be encouraged, because I’ve been so encouraged by others.

Never in my wildest dreams when I showed up at RealSelf would I have thought I’d be going through with this surgery. But I changed my mind, seeing the confidence people gain. This is a banner year for me: I’m turning 60! I feel like if I’m going to do it, I need to do it now. I want to enjoy it for a while! — Debra Gravelle is a Senior RealSelf Advisor. Follow her personal journey, Bringing Sexy Back at 60, on RealSelf.com.