Victoria, British Columbia – Troy Alexander, a mortgage broker with VERICO Select Mortgage in Victoria, BC, recently returned from a two week aid mission to help children with cleft-lips in the Philippines.
Mr. Alexander was one of three Canadians on the twenty-seven member team that participated in a medical mission with Rotaplast International, a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that offers cleft-lip surgery to children in need.
“We completely up to 12 operations a day with a total of 75 operations during the entire mission, says Mr. Alexander. “Operations varied in length from 2 hours to 5 hours depending on the number of procedures and the complexity of the procedures.”
“The team worked long hard days with little time for breaks and quite often with little sleep, but it was all done for the benefit of the children. One of the medical volunteers summed it up best by saying, “We're here for a common goal to do uncommon good.” These surgeries truly are life changing experiences not only for the children, but also for their parents and for the volunteers fortunate enough to see the transformation.”
The team worked in Cebu City out of Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, a general teaching and training medical facility owned and operated by the Philippine Government. Unlike the privately funded hospitals, Mr. Alexander says that the condition of Vicente Sotto is in need of repair and new equipment.
“I was the Quartermaster on the team, which is a non-medical role. My job was to oversee the medical supplies and equipment, ensuring that the doctors and nurses had everything needed to complete their jobs throughout mission. I was also responsible for shuttling patients and parents between the Operating Room to the Recovery Ward, and finally to ensure that equipment was shipped back to the United States.”
(Pic Right: One of our patients and her mother waiting in the Children’s Ward for their names to be called for surgery. The stuffed animal she is holding was a special one that was provided by Mrs. Alexander and her co-worker.)
Families in need had heard about the free surgery through the media and traveled by boat from surrounding islands to Cebu. “One patient was more than 10 hours by boat and 3 hours by bus. The Rotary Club of Cebu Port Center, who was our host club there, advertised on TV and radio on the island of Cebu and by radio to the surrounding islands, as many of these islands are very poor and many did not own televisions. The Rotary Club then paid for their way to and from Cebu City,” says Mr. Alexander.
“My thought on day one when I landed in Cebu was one of awe. I have never been to a developing or third world country so had no idea what to expect. The majority of the people there are very poor. By their standards, homeless people in Canada or the US have it much better than many of their citizens. Drugs are not a problem there because beggars want money for the sole purpose of getting food to survive another day. Homeless street kids sleep on pedestrian overpasses or on the steps of malls. These kids have no parents, no money, some had no shoes…it was absolutely heart breaking.”
“When I left on day 12, I felt sad. I was sad to say goodbye to the many great people I met there…the Rotarians, the volunteers and nurses who helped us with our mission at the hospital, the parents and the children. These children now have a better chance at a normal life because they will no longer be bullied at school and will be accepted.
Mr. Alexander says that there is still more he would like to do. “There is so much need in so many areas that it is hard to focus on just one, but I would like to go back to Cebu City and try to make a difference. There are orphanages and alternative learning schools that need funding and these facilities could go a long way to help children just like the ones I met on this mission. I was especially struck by one girl I met named Angie,” he says.
“Angie is a 16 years old girl and lives in the slums with her parents to scavenge in the dump for a living. She has never attended school and cannot read or write. When she was 2 or 3 years old, she suffered a fall on her face and got an infection called Noma, a gangrenous disease that leads to tissue destruction of the face. As a result, the infection ate most of her lower lip and there was a big gap where her lip should be. Because of this facial deformity, she was very shy and tried to hide her face as much as possible. This was also likely the reason that she never attended school, because children would bully her and call her a monster. A caring citizen, who knew of Angie as she often saw her trying to sell the bits of scrapes from the dump, brought her in. The doctors saw Angie and immediately knew they had to do something for her.
“She was approved for surgery and wound up having surgery on our second surgical day. One of the major concerns about the surgery was that it was going to have to be done under local anesthetic because they could not intubate her, meaning she would be awake for the entire procedure. She was quite adamant that she wanted to go ahead with the surgery regardless of the risks or the pain she may experience. For nearly two and a half hours the surgeons worked on finding a way to piece the remainder of her lower lip together and pull up skin from her chin to fill in the void. In the end they managed to give her a lip where there was none before.
“Angie was very happy to see herself in a mirror for the first time shortly after the surgery. While she will have to come back next year for some adjustments and likely some skin grafts to cover some of the scarring, she is already talking about going to school to learn to read and write. And her guardian angel who brought her in to the hospital will be opening her home to Angie so she will not be returning to the slums and a life in the dump. I will be keeping in touch with Angie and her guardian over the next year to make sure that we do what we can to help from Canada, whether it be providing monies for school, or working with the local Rotary Club there to get her in to an alternative learning school, it will be done.”
“A piece of my heart got left in Cebu City and I know that I want to do something to help,” adds Mr. Alexander.
Troy is a Rotarian with the Rotary Club of Victoria-Harbourside. He is the Past-President of the Rotary Club of Royal Oak and is currently an Assistant Governor for Rotary District 5020. He was awarded the Four Avenues of Service Citation for Individual Rotarians in 2010 in recognition of his outstanding efforts in each of the Four Avenues of Service.
Founded in 1992, Rotaplast is committed to changing lives through reconstructive facial surgery and has performed over 13,000 surgeries in developing countries around the world. Rotaplast is renowned for providing cleft-lip and palate repair not only to infants, but to children and even occasionally adults around the world.
(Pic Left: Troy Alexander collecting one of the little patients from the children’s ward for transport up to the surgery.)
To learn more about Rotaplast International or to find out how you can volunteer or donate to this great cause, please visit the Rotaplast Canada website www.rotaplastcanada.com.
(Pic Above: A tearful mother and her son reunited after surgery. This photo really captures the impact that our surgeries had on the children and especially on the families. They are not tears of sadness, but rather tears of joy.)
(Pic Above: Myself and Angie on the last day. Such a remarkable change from the shy timid girl who I first met at the Medical Clinic Pre-screening on Day 2.)
(Pic Above: Troy with one of the patients on the post clinic day. This was held the last day after surgeries and was a follow up to see how the healing was coming along and to leave the parents with any last instructions.)