Hands Across the World finds its origins in the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, which has been sending volunteer groups to Ecuador since 1991. In 2006, “Hands Across the World,” was founded by Dr. Stephen A. Pap and Dr. Richard T. Silverman, with the hope of expanding our mission. Historically, funding was limited, and trips were financed solely by the volunteers. Resident’s and nurses’ travel expenses were covered by fellow surgeons, friends, or family members. Establishing Hands Across the World enabled a better funding mechanism, so that the organization could expand our mission, lessen the financial burden on those giving their time and services, and reach more people in medical need, in more areas.
This was the model for many years, but since the creation of Hands Across the World, most of the nursing staff, resident staff and junior anesthetic staff are covered by the donations HAW receives or through institutional support. Attending surgeons and anesthesia staff continue to pay their own way, and in some cases, vacation time is sacrificed by those attending the missions.
It’s a true testament of giving from the heart to change lives and make a difference in the world.
Typically, we make our annual missions in late January or early February, and serve between 100 and 200 individuals each year. So far, thanks to the pairing with local organizations such as the Rotary Club of Latacunga, Fundacion Solidaria de Orellana, and Fundacion Tierra Nueva, we have treated patients in Latacunga, Coca, Quito.
Our patients primarily suffer from: Cleft lip and palate, birth defects of the head and neck, hand abnormalities, lower extremity deformities, and burn scar deformities.
However, we have been prepared to help with anything else we have encountered, including a walk-in machete wound, an Amazon jungle snake bite, and a high-risk baby delivery. In that case, the mother was in a lot of pain, the umbilical cord was tangled around the infant’s neck and the baby wasn’t breathing. However, we happened to have a neonatal ICU nurse, three pediatric OR nurses, and pediatric anesthesiologist on staff. The infant was safely delivered and we made an enormous difference in lives that day.
These are all reasons why we continue to do what we do. It shows what one can do to help the lives of others. In some cases, it gives patients a second chance in life.
The links below provide the annual summaries written by our co-founder, Dr. Rick Silverman, regarding trip experiences. Additionally, there is a link to a paper published in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal, which was written by several HAW Board members. This article details the clinical and economic impact cleft lip-cleft palate surgical programs can have in resource-poor settings.