Cleft Mission Phalodi, Rajasthan, India| Jan 27-Feb 4, 2012

Scott R. Chaiet, MD is a resident in the Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Division of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. He joined MMFC in January for our 5th surgical trip to Phalodi, Rajasthan, India. Scott’s participation was made possible through AAO-HNSF, the American Association of Otolaryngologists and Head Neck Surgery Foundation and the generous financial support of the Alcon Foundation. We are proud to welcome Scott to MMFC and to share his words with you.

There once was a woman who grew up in the poor northwest state Rajasthan, India about 300km from the Pakistani border, who was granted a chance to move to North America with her best friend where they would both attend medical school, establish prosperous careers at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and even work in a makeshift laboratory space above an Ohio slaughter house to harvest pig pancreatic islet cells for research. In a selfless move, Kanti Jain (her family name for the obscure religion) and her friend Shareen would give up their careers to return to their home of Phalodi to take over a small clinic Kanti’s sister had started before succumbing to cancer. The clinic would evolve into a hospital with dormitory space to house poor family members, a school for the local poor children and those of other professionals who returned to the region, but even this was not enough for Khanti. She created work training programs to empower women, built a dialysis center, and procured a rural mobile vaccination unit that to date has administered approximately 100,000 vaccines. She also partnered with Medical Missions for Children (MMFC), a Boston-based international charity that sends teams of surgeons around the world to remote areas like Phalodi to provide free cleft surgeries.

It’s difficult to capture the feelings of gratitude, respect, and admiration I have gained for these two women and their extended family who work together, but as I journey home reflecting on a personally successful week, it does not seem worthy to give myself even a small pat on the back or receive a “job well done” in the shadows of Khanti or Shareen.

But the week was truly amazing. As a surgeon, I gained two mentors who gave me 24/7 access to their knowledge of surgical skills and humanitarian aid with some subtle teasing and resident abuse, in exchange for my incessant questions during our 35 procedures over 2 half-days and 3 full-days in the operating room. Farhad Sigari selflessly gives up multiple weeks of his year for MMFC missions, not from a large well-established practice, but from his new solo otolaryngology practice. And Merry Sebilik, an academic Head & Neck Surgeon in Memphis, I can really credit for getting me on this trip (I received a grant from her Academy committee and personally received her words of advice at the 2010 Annual Meeting, not knowing the connection until this week). Merry has renewed my passion for teaching, leadership, humanitarianism, and will probably get credit for inspiring me to make many more surgical trips with MMFC.

Seven other MMFC members led by pediatric gastroenterologist, Helen John-Kelly, MD each helped create a lean mean patient care machine, and took the time to teach the new guy in a remarkable drama-free week that centered on patient care, food, masala chai tea, Kingfisher beer, and more food. 

One child who made a particular impression on me was named Ganesh. I worked with Merry Sebelik on Thursday to repair his bilateral cleft lip. The name Ganesh is one of the Hindi gods that is based on an elephant and is good luck (we even had a stuffed animal Ganesh hanging from the anesthesia machine at the hospital). The boy’s double-clefted smile captured the heart of the whole team and I was lucky to get a few photos with him in his near celebrity status. His sister, also adorable, had her lip repaired one year ago and got her palate closed the day before her baby brother had his lip repaired.

I want to thank my mentor and biggest supporter Ben Marcus and my program for making this trip possible. On behalf of the children of Phalodi who received this life-changing surgery, my deepest gratitite to AAO-HNSF and the Alcove Foundation for funding my participation. I look forward to continuing my humanitarian work with MMFC on many future trips.

Scott Chaiet, MD