In February, 2015 I had the great pleasure and privilege to lead the surgical team on our annual humanitarian mission to Kigali, Rwanda. The tagline for our Face the Future™ Foundation is, “Providing hope – one child at a time.” By all measures, our mission was a resounding success in meeting this goal.
Our team of 12 included head and neck, facial plastic, and microvascular reconstructive surgeons from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Baylor University in Houston, University of Regensburg in Germany, and Wilford Hall in San Antonio. Besides our seven surgeons, we had two anesthesiologists, an intensive care specialist and two surgical scrub nurses to round out our team. We worked individually and as a team with our Rwandan counterparts. Dr. Charles Furaha, the only plastic surgeon in Rwanda, led the host team which also included head and neck and oromaxillofacial surgeons and anesthesiologists.
We began our mission with a consultation day at the Rwandan Military Hospital to screen 38 patients, almost all of whom presented with advanced and/or challenging diseases. In particular, we reviewed a number of children and young adults with large facial tumors such as neurofibromas, hemangiomas, adenocarcinomas, and fibroblastomas. We also saw some patients with severe burns with associated functional issues such as inability to close the eyes and difficulty eating. Other children had microtia, a congenital absence of ears, and some had amputations of their ears related to genocide attacks. Our orthognathic surgeon, Dr. Jose Barrera from San Antonio, Texas, treated a number of patients with congenital or traumatic oral deformities of the maxilla and mandible. Dr. Holger Gassner, one of our nasal reconstructive specialists, used forehead flaps and other exquisite techniques to build new noses from absent ones. Dr. Kofi Boahene, our team leader from Johns Hopkins, along with his colleague and microvascular specialist, Dr. Jeremy Richman and Dr. Anthony Brissett from Baylor University in Houston, worked in teams to ablate disease. At the same time local flaps or tibial free flaps from the leg were taken to reconstruct the facial defects. I performed reconstructive rhinoplasties on traumatically deformed noses and facial scar revisions, some of these lingering injuries from the 1994 genocide.
Altogether the team performed 28 major cases over the four days of surgery. We taught local surgeons in the operating room, intensive care unit and on the ward. Dr. Boahene gave a grand rounds presentation on surgical rehabilitation of the paralyzed facial nerve. It was determined that our team provided almost $900,000USD of surgical care to the patients of Rwanda, at the same time helping them build their capacity. In the three years we have been to Rwanda we have already seen significant advances in their capabilities to care for more complex cases. We have yet a long journey, but are moving forward optimistically with the full support of our Rwandan surgeon, colleagues, the Rwanda Military Hospital and the Rwanda Ministry of Health. Our next mission is planned for early 2016.