Virtuous Act: Dr. Corbins charitable journey
sent my name into Operation Smile in the spring in
the hopes of going to Dharamsala, India in Oct.
It was going to be Operation Smile's first trip to
that area and I wanted to be on that trip.
By the end of the summer I received an Email that
the trip had been filled. I was disappointed but looked
forward to going to other third world countries in
which I might be needed. Then, only three weeks before
the eventual trip, I was called by Operation Smile
and literally begged to go on short notice as there
had been a cancellation by another surgeon.
My wife had already made plans to go to India with
friends at the same time so everything fell into
place. All I had to do was reschedule my patients
and get on my wife's flight schedule that would put
her in New Delhi when the rest of the Operation Smile
team arrived. When my own patients found out why
I wanted to move their surgeries, they all were accommodating
so the trip was on.
We flew from LA to Singapore, roughly 15 hours, then
from Singapore to New Delhi another 5 hours. We arrived
early in the morning where I hooked up with the rest
of the Operation Smile team, 40 other MD's, nurses
and support staff, and after a short rest in New Delhi
traveled 15 hours by bus to Dharamsala arriving very
late at night. The trip was exhausting as the roads
are twisty, narrow and are poorly paved making the
bus feel like a ship lost in a rough sea. Many
members of the team immediately got motion sickness.
Luckily I was one of those that didn't.
Exhausted from the trip we got up at 6 in the morning
so that we could get to a local college/ medial school
where the triaging of patients would begin. Patients
and their parents traveled from all over India to
be seen not knowing whether they would be selected
for surgery. They would initially check in and
then pass through lines of paper work. They would
then be seen by the Plastic Surgeons, and if selected
for surgery the Anesthesiologists, the Pediatricians
and finally the phlebotomists. 6 Plastic Surgeons,
one from India, one from Canada, one from Russia now
migrated to the US and 3 from the US, myself included,
examined over 350 patients before putting together
an operative schedule that would accomplish 150 surgeries.
It took us 3 days to screen all these people, 1 day
to set up the OR's and 5 days to perform the surgeries.
Our mission was first to operate on primary cleft
lips and then primary cleft palates. Other deformities
could also be treated if there was time and availability.
Those children too old to benefit from a cleft palate
repair or revision were sent to a dentist, along on
the trip from the US, for an obturator to be made
to aid speech.
the evenings after screening or surgery despite the
fact the days ran long, we were invited to dinner
receptions to be honored by various groups in Dharamsala.
Quite frankly I would have preferred to go to the
hotel and sleep but we did not wish to disappoint
anyone as they were so glad we had come.
The patients we screened ranged in age from a few
months old to close to sixty years old. One of those
chosen for surgery was a 51 year old woman with an
unrepaired cleft lip, another a high school student
with a unrepaired bilateral cleft lip and palate.
Some of the children and adults had deformities
too severe or complicated to be attempted on this
trip and some were simply too sick.
operating rooms consisted of 2 rooms with 2 operating
tables per room and the "closet" that had
the fifth operating table. Each day we rotated rooms
and one surgeon "floated." Luckily I got
to operate everyday.
The hospital was very different from what we think
of as hospitals here in the US. It smelled like
a public bathroom and had birds flying around the
ceilings and the odd monkey running down the halls.
Power frequently was lost and at times we had to rely
on flash lights. All and all though the people
are what made it all worth while. They were so appreciative
and so patient with us despite the language barrier
and the long waits to be seen and eventually operated
on. Many had walked or driven hours and even days
just to be seen without a guarantee of surgery. Many
were told that they would have to wait for another
mission to come but were grateful for being seen and
placed on the list. One man drove 13 hours just
to be sure we were there and then had to drive back
to get his eleven month old son and then return without
the knowledge that he would be cleared for surgery.
Luckily he did and I had the opportunity to repair
his severe bilateral cleft lip.
trip was humbling for many reasons. Right away from
the trip up the mountains to Dharamsala along the
winding rough roads, to the narrow poverty congested
streets we passed along the way, you realize how
much we have to be grateful here in the USA.
To see and treat all of these people most with severe
defects which if they had lived in the USA would have
been treated when they were far smaller and easy to
And finally to be included with a group of Plastic
Surgeons all of whom I felt were excellent and would
be honored to have operate on any one of my family
members. What an honor to be included amongst this
group that must have been Operation Smile's "A"
if this wasn't enough to humble you, the day before
we left we had the honor of a private audience
with the Dahlia Lama in which he got to know us and
we him on a very personal basis. He agreed to
meet with us because as he put it he saw in our mission
the compassion that had consumed his existence.
He referred to our charitable surgical mission
as a virtuous act. Our charitable trip to India
is one that I will remember fondly. The deformed children
and their parents gratitude is a true reminder of
the heart of plastic surgery. As a plastic surgeon
the most rewarding aspect of what I do is improve
the quality of my patents lives. As Emily Dickinson
wrote, "If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the
aching, Or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin
unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.
Frederic H. Corbin M.D.
Corbin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Dee to arrange your consultation; Beverly Hills (310)
284-8384 or Brea (714) 671-3033.