In 1968, when I was 8 years old, my father, Donald Laub, Sr., a plastic surgeon and chief of the plastic surgery residency at Stanford University, founded Interplast, Inc.. Interplast was the first organization to bring free reconstructive surgery to the needy in third world countries. Since then, Interplast has provided thousands of people, young and old, with free reconstructive surgery and has branched off into many sister organizations and impacted myriad lives. (The mother organization has renamed itself “ReSurge;” its website is here: http://www.resurge.org/about_us/history.cfm)
I remember piling into a van as a kid and driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Mexicali, Mexico, where my father would perform surgery repairing cleft lips and palates. I would hang out with my mother and siblings in a church mission. Later, as a college student, I went on a trip to Porto Viejo Ecuador with two of my father’s colleagues: Dr. David Dibbell, a plastic surgeon from the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Larry Leonard, a hand surgeon from the University of Utah. Despite my role as an “errand runner,” I had the opportunity to assist Dr. Leonard with intricate surgical procedures correcting congenital malformations of the hand. The magnificent ability to help these people in need, combined with the technical challenges of this surgery, became the catalyst of my resolve to become a plastic surgeon and hand surgeon.
As a plastic surgery resident, I had the opportunity to go on many Interplast trips with attending plastic surgeons. During these trips I learned surgery for cleft lip and palate from one of the masters, Dr. Robert Pool from William Beaumont Hospital, near Detroit, Michigan. Still later, as a hand surgery fellow, I went on an Interplast trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam with a legendary hand surgeon, and the chief of surgery at Stanford University: Robert Chase, MD. Due to health issues, Dr. Chase wasn’t able to complete that trip; however, I continued and was privileged to perform surgeries with a Vietnamese orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Hai, who taught me a great deal about performing high-quality surgery with limited resources.
Since coming to the UVM Medical Center, I have continued to go on Interplast trips – I’ve participated in a total of eleven missions to five different countries. I learned that Dr. Chris Viscomi, a UVM Medical Center anesthesiologist, has been traveling with another organization, Hospital de la Familia (http://www.hospitaldelafamilia.com). This organization offers surgical care through a permanent hospital in Nuevo Progresso Guatemala, which is staffed by surgical teams from the United States four or five times per year. Along with other surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician assistants and nurses from The UVM Medical Center, I have collaborated on four trips in four years to Hospital de la Familia.
These medical missions serve many purposes: the obvious one is that people in third world countries receive needed surgical care that they otherwise would have no access to. Not so obvious is what the medical personnel gain from these trips: there is the satisfaction of being able to use our skills in a purely helping and humanitarian way. I believe that performing service without looking for personal gain is intensely satisfying; I call it “Psychic Income.” (My father has a blog about his lifetime of experiences with humanitarian missions, called: “Many People, Many Passports”, you can find it at http://dlaub.wordpress.com).
Don Laub, MD, a plastic surgeon at the UVM Medical Center, is interim division chief of Plastic Surgery and a professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.