It’s a long way from Minneapolis to Mozambique, but when the traveler is board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Manish C. Champaneria, MD, it’s less of a stretch when you consider his career path and longstanding interest in helping vulnerable and underserved patients. Now practicing at PeaceHealth Plastic Surgery, in Vancouver, Wash., he’s just back from a medical mission to the impoverished African nation and shared his experience with MediBeauty Today:
MediBeauty Today (MBT): How did the trip come about?
Manish Champaneria (MC): It was a joint mission between two organizations, Mending Kids and ReSurge International. I was representing ReSurge and went with another surgeon, David Kulber, who is on the board of directors of Mending Kids. He’s been going there for four years now, and he’s identified a great need in the country.
MBT: How so?
MC: The country is quite large and has a very big problem with burns. They use propane tanks and cook over open flames, and oftentimes, the adults are off working. The kids are left alone so there’s a high rate of burns and a great need for burn surgery and reconstruction.
MBT: What’s the current state of plastic surgery in the country?
MC: There are four plastic surgeons for the entire country. Three are based at Maputo Central Hospital [where the mission operated]; the other is at another hospital about 30 minutes away.
MBT: How would you describe the infrastructure at the hospital?
MC: It’s the oldest hospital in the city and, unfortunately, in a bit of disarray. The facilities are not as modern or well-kept as, say, a standard county or community hospital in the U.S. It has 4,000 beds — 45 for plastic surgery — and each room has 10 to 12 patients. There’s no temperature control in the rooms, which is not ideal for a burn ward.
MBT: Tell us about the patients you encountered.
MC: There are a lot of people throughout the country who have a need for surgery, and they travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to seek medical attention or get advice. There’s no rail system in Mozambique, so they travel by car, and it might take days to reach us. Despite that, what really struck me was how warm and friendly they were; they’re willing to wait 10 or 12 hours in the waiting area to see us.
MBT: Were there particular cases that made an impression?
MC: There were several — a baby with a neck contracture, who couldn’t look down; another whose hands were fused together. There was a little boy who had such a severe burn to his chest, back, arms, and neck that he couldn’t lift his arm. We were able to release the contracture, do a latissimus flap, and give him the mobility he needed.
MBT: How did they handle the procedures?
MC: They withstand the pain and the wound care, and they don’t cry. There’s also a great support system for the child. Every single pediatric patient had a family member with them, and that person would never leave their side. Twenty-four hours a day, they’d be next to the patient.
MBT: What was a typical day like?
MC: It wasn’t like an Operation Smile trip where they might do 200 surgeries. These cases were long and arduous; it would be me, the patient, and the host surgeon learning how to do the surgery so they could apply it to new patients when we’re not there.
We also did a lot of work in the wards, teaching nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists how to do appropriate wound care, correct splinting, etc. The after-care is a huge part of burn surgery, so we were trying to teach them that, as well.
MBT: Obviously, the patients reap great benefits from such efforts. What do you get out of it?
MC: These patients have such tremendous needs. For us, to be able to go there and give them something that can easily be taken for granted here makes me feel like I’m giving back. It gives me a sense of completeness and makes me feel like I’m doing the job I was meant to do.
MBT: In fact, such trips have actually helped shape your career. How did you first get involved?
MC: In med school in Minneapolis, I was gung ho on general surgery, but during a clinical research fellowship at Yale, my mentor encouraged me to look beyond it. During that year, I went on a mission trip to Jordan with Operation Smile, and it really opened my eyes to the field of plastic surgery. Being able to improve form, shape, and function, to be able to see results quickly — I absolutely fell in love with the field.
MBT: What advice would you give to other doctors thinking about participating in such trips?
MC: Absolutely do it. It’s honorable; it’s life-changing. It’s something that we need to do to advance medicine, not just in our country but across the world. If you take a global view, sharing each other’s wisdom and knowledge is the only way we’re going to be able to improve.
Giving back, sharing knowledge, and training local doctors to provide medical care to vulnerable and underserved patients — these are the motivations and goals of the many aesthetic professionals who participate in humanitarian missions around the world. The doctors who undertake them deserve, not just professional admiration, but also the financial assistance that can help make such trips possible.
To that end, we at RealSelf have launched the RealSelf Fellowship which awards funding to physicians and medical professionals who donate their time and expertise to deliver medical care and training in highly underserved communities around the world. The RealSelf Fellowship is designed to inspire and promote humanitarianism among our physician community, raise awareness to the gap in access to reconstructive surgical care and build sustainable solutions that improve quality of life in developing countries.
Visit the RealSelf Fellowship page to learn more about our first class of RealSelf Fellows or to apply with one of our partner organizations.