Tanzania is a country where children with disabilities are hidden away from society. A cleft lip, for example, is a birth defect and is something that’s easy to treat. The goal of our team is to treat things like this and other defects. It’s rewarding to all those involved to be able to get these children into society and it helps them bond more with their parents. Our medical team travel to Tanzania at least twice a year to not only complete hundreds of surgeries a year, but to also work with the native surgeons to get them up-to-speed and into the 21st Century. Within the past five years, they’ve developed a formal surgical training program, and our doctors assist with this. We’ve trained the doctors to treat many things including burns, head and neck cancers, and cleft lip and cleft palate repairs.
The Plaster House came about from an idea on a piece of paper, to a home housing over 100 children in pre- or postoperative care, we have grown larger than we ever imagined. The Plaster House started simply in 2008 with 9 borrowed broken hospital beds and 3 staff members, now with plans for 80 beds by the end of 2017 and 30 staff – many more children with disabilities can be cared for.
I grew up in a small town in Minnesota with incredible parents and siblings who were always concerned with helping others. I was always interested in medicine and particularly surgery. This translated into me going into training to become a plastic surgeon. After years of training I felt fortunate to having availed myself of superb training. I felt compelled to give back to others.
When I moved to Denver in the early 90’s I was “introduced” to a project in Tanzania, East Africa by a colleague of mine. The person running the project in Arusha Tanzania happened to be Dr. Mark Jacobson, a native of Stillwater, Minnesota. Mark and I had grown up in this idyllic small town on the banks of the St. Croix River.
Once the project in Arusha built the operating rooms I was one of the first surgeons to travel to Arusha and perform surgery. The region, the people and the enormous need evidenced convinced me that I wanted to establish a regular program to provide service, support and education to the people of Tanzania. To achieve this goal I recruited some of the most talented and dedicated people who also subscribed to these ideals. These people include Dr. Jim Lessig, Dr. Royal Gerow, Dr. Jack Cochran, Dr. David Theil, and Dr. Andrew Veit. Many others have also joined in with our surgical safaris and are too many to list.
One World Medical Relief, Inc. was spawned by one of my good friends, Dr. Timothy Thurman, a plastic surgeon in Idaho. We transitioned OWMR to Denver when Tim ‘s practice changed. Our mission is to provide support for the hospitals that we practice in Arusha. We provide educational, medical and surgical support for the projects at Arusha Lutheran Medical Center, Selian Lutheran Hospital and a rehabilitation center known as The Plaster House. The eventual goal of One World Medical Relief is to provide additional support to similar projects in other parts of the developing world.
Whom much is given, much is expected.
I am a Plastic Surgeon living in Denver Colorado.
Many years and trips ago, I asked my friend and colleague Dr. William Brown if I could participate in his surgical mission trips to Arusha Tanzania. Fortunately for me, he took me up on it. I knew that Bill had organized a surgical mission to care for the people of Tanzania that provided state of the art procedures for patients with cleft lip and palate deformities; severe surgical burn scar contractures; head and neck deformities due to trauma, birth defects, and cancer; and much more. Care voluntarily donated to provide patients with direct life changing results, involving and teaching local surgeons, followed with consistent, reliable postoperative care, with much needed physical therapy, and long term continuity to provide additional care by the team as needed. An investment of time, surgical care, and finances that has immediate results in care for those in need often isolated in their society.
While I found the need is challenging and great, with a little much can be done, and I receive more than I ever give. The rewards are exponential to those we are able to treat often allowing them to become confident and productive for themselves and contribute to their society. Our mission is an ongoing commitment and passion. I have also been fortunate to have made medical mission trips to Nicaragua and Ethiopia. It never ceases to recharge my mind and spirit.