Virtuous Act: Dr. Corbins charitable journey to India
here to see the video
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
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 repair.
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" team.
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
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