Crossing Borders to Mend Lives 6

Local Medical Team Works with Medical Aid for Children of Latin America

A committed group of Kansas Citians is making a world of difference for people half a world away. They are part of Medical Aid for Children of Latin America (MACLA), a nonprofit organization. Some of the members who make up MACLA are also on the talented team of professionals at Quinn Plastic Surgery Center of Overland Park.

“We have treated more than 9,000 patients in the Dominican Republic, restoring hope for those faced with physical abnormalities,” Dr. John Quinn, a specialist in reconstructive and plastic surgery, says.

MACLA not only restores hope, but it also transforms lives.

“In this culture, if a child has a deformity, they are ostracized and excluded from school. Some people are superstitious, believing that if you have a deformity, you are touched by the devil,” Quinn says. “If we can take care of a small child, the damage can be repaired before the stigma is ingrained.”

In the mid-1980s, the medical team would travel to various cities in the Dominican Republic. Now the patients come to them. For the past 15 years, the MACLA medical team has operated out of Padre Billini Hospital in the capital city of Santo Domingo.

The city’s population is about 1 million, with another 9 million living throughout the island.

“It is a relatively small country with a limited gene pool,” Quinn says. “As a result, the residents have more than the normal number of genetic abnormalities. These often show up as a cleft lip, a cleft palate, webbed fingers, missing or extra digits. You may see three or four generations of one family with these abnormalities.”

Viruses, drugs and toxins may also play a role.

MACLA medical teams consist of operating room and recovery nurses, anesthetists, anesthesiologists, plastic surgeons, pediatricians and family physicians, physical and occupational therapists, and lay volunteers. Each year, seven to 10 plastic surgeons from around the country freely offer their services. Volunteers donate their time and talent, each paying for their own flights and other expenses. They come from Chicago, North Carolina, California but the main crew is Kansas City-based.

“Although we travel to the Dominican Republic only once a year, we are in constant contact with doctors, nurses and Peace Corps volunteers, prescreening candidates, and ordering supplies,” Quinn says.

Peace Corps volunteers work with local physicians and nurses and travel to remote villages to identify potential candidates for surgery, including burn victims. The surgical team usually arrives on a Sunday and sets up a clinic at the hospital.

“The country is used to us being there now,” Quinn says. “Between 500 and 1,000 people typically gather on the street to see our doctors. From this crowd, we choose 100-150 patients to operate on during the next four days.”

The Peace Corps volunteers also print and distribute posters, serve as translators and help the surgical team with the nuances of emotions that, culturally, Quinn and his team may not recognize.

The year following surgeries, families often return to the clinic to show their gratitude.

“They present us with gifts such as a chicken, or a package of Oreo cookies,” Quinn says. “One man who had lived alone for years announced that after his surgery, he was ready to look for a wife!”

MACLA relies on donations to purchase medical supplies. This charitable foundation uses more than 96 percent of donations for patient care. Dr. Thomas Geraghty started the organization in 1985, and upon his retirement three years ago, Quinn stepped up to lead MACLA. He remembers his first trip in 1986 to the Dominican Republic as a medical resident in plastic surgery.

“Looking back, to tell you the truth, I did not want to go,” he says. “But once I got there, I realized what a huge difference we made in people’s lives!”

That difference continues today. To learn more, visit 
MACLA.org. Your gift will help this dedicated team change lives.