Monthly Archives: June 2016

What a Difference a Year Makes by Melissa Howell, NP

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IMG_0795For me, the Zimbabwe 2016 trip was a huge accomplishment.  It was a testimony of God’s faith and healing powers.

Two days after I returned from the Zimbabwe 2015 trip, my life was forever changed. I was in a horrible accident and was not expected to make it. Along with a severe traumatic brain injury, multiple blood transfusions, CPR, life support, and amnesia for over 2 weeks, my outlook was not good. I spent three months in intense therapy learning to do things like walk and read again.

I don’t remember saying this, but early in my recovery, I apparently shared that my goal was to get well so that I could be part of the LEAP trip to Zimbabwe this year.

As I returned home with this goal fulfilled—fully back to normal by God’s power—I was overcome with emotion. How gracious our Lord is that my life was spared! It is for Him and because of Him that I serve with a passion for others.

Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord and not for men.

 Melissa Howell is a nurse practitioner based in Dallas who has traveled with LEAP on six surgical mission trips.  

Melissa is pictured here with Mutsa, an eleven-year-old girl who is working her way back to wholeness–something Melissa understands at a deep level following her own recovery from a nearly fatal accident. We are thankful for volunteers like her who not only share their medical skills but also their strong and loving spirits in the face of adversity.

Making a World of Difference by Blake Bengtson

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I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, but I never knew why until after my first LEAP trip. Through that experience, I realized it is because I want to help people and to change lives, and medicine is a great avenue to do that. I have been given my gifts for a reason, and LEAP has shown me the importance of using my gifts to bless others.

For that reason and many others, LEAP has been a huge blessing to me. I am most inspired by parent reactions after the surgeries are over. The look on their faces overcomes any sort of language barrier and portrays their feelings of gratitude and awe. The fact that their child looks different and has been “fixed” means the world to them and in some cases means they will be accepted into the community that once labeled them as outcasts.


Blake observes Dr. Eric Payne performing a cleft palate repair. As part of our mission, LEAP encourages select aspiring medical professionals to travel with us on our surgical missions to learn more about the profession, get valuable experience, and see firsthand how they can use their talents for good.

I hope that I have been able to put my skills to good use and help, but I have seen my two mission experiences as LEAP helping me: LEAP has helped me visualize my future and pushed me to succeed in my endeavors. The path to becoming a surgeon isn’t easy. A lot of people quit along the way, but after my trips with LEAP, I have no problem finding the motivation to continue pushing myself in the classroom to overcome hurdles because I can see what is on the other side of the mountain.

LEAP has also provided me with amazing role models and people I can turn to for advice. Drs. Craig Hobar, Eric Payne, Jordi Espel, Grant Gilliland, and Jose Castro were all extremely helpful and very willing to let me observe and participate in the OR. The rest of the medical staff were very open to my presence and showed me the ropes behind a lot of the work being done. I’m grateful to the LEAP staff for letting me take part in this experience.

I have loved watching the work they do in the world and the difference they make in the lives of all of the people that they touch — mine included. I’ve chosen to invest my time with the organization because I truly believe LEAP is making a valuable impact in the world and makes a world of difference in the lives of those they touch.

Blake Bengtson is a business major at TCU and is part of the pre-med program. He hopes his business degree will one day help him effectively run both his practice and a nonprofit. As a surgeon, his father has been a major influence in his life and chosen career path. Our most recent trip to Zimbabwe was Blake’s second mission with LEAP.  


Update on Tenaka

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FullSizeRenderWe are happy to share that Tenaka had his cleft lip and soft palate repair and did very well. While awaiting surgery, his mom beautifully sang Hosanna to comfort her infant son. Today, we had nine pediatric patients scheduled for surgery; all but one was a cleft patient. We are so grateful to be a part of the lives of these wonderful children and their families.

Zimbabwe: Tenaka

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13419160_10154105772522254_3104709076770496200_nFour-month-old Tenaka arrived for patient evaluation today. We soon learned his mother and aunt traveled 200 miles over two days, taking several buses to finally arrive at Harare Children’s Hospital. Tenaka is scheduled for surgery tomorrow by lead surgeon Dr. Eric Payne.

Pictured: Dr. Eric Payne (upper right) and Craniofacial Fellow Dr. Jose Castro Garcia (left), evaluating Tenaka.