Dr. Alejandra Garcia, a pediatric plastic surgeon and longtime LEAP medical volunteer, helped lead a small team to Zihuatanejo, Mexico to address the need for ear reconstructions in pediatric patients. This location is outside LEAP’s usual mission locations, but we felt called to lend a hand. Below, Dr. Garcia describes the experience from her point of view.
What drew you to the need for pediatric ear reconstructions in Zihuatanejo?
We have family in the area. They connected with a local ENT who takes care of all kinds of patients, adults, and children. He shared the tremendous need for specialists and access to care. He specifically sees a lot of children with ear malformations. He knows what an impact it has on their social development and was frustrated that he had no way to get them treatment.
When you arrived, what were some of your first impressions with regard to how the team would be able to make a difference?
We were greeted at the airport by a full local team very enthusiastic to get this mission going. This was the first reassurance that we were meant to be here. Once we arrived at the hospital, we saw a full waiting room of patients and all the hospital staff welcoming our team. The local ENT said, “this is only the beginning, there are so many more!”
Describe the dynamics of the team that went on the trip. What were your greatest strengths?
This was a core team, experienced LEAPers who spent weeks preparing and came with an incredible attitude to represent our organization, our mission, and step up to the challenges of a first time in a new location. Some were old friends to me, and some were new faces, yet all had that enthusiasm and dedication that I am familiar with in all LEAP volunteers.
Was there a particular patient story that moved you or a memory you will always hold dear?
The last case we were able to do was that of a 9-year-old boy with an ear that was “curled”. While this did not require a full reconstruction, it was a challenge to get his ear to open up. His mother was tearful from the moment we said we would do the surgery, knowing this would make a huge difference in her son’s life. My favorite moment was when we took off the dressings a few days later and showed the boy his ear. He opened his eyes wide and gave the sweetest smile.
Why do you serve with LEAP? What motivates you to offer your skills to those in need?
Everything is a gift from God. If you believe that then you know your skills are His. Every LEAP mission has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. The camaraderie is difficult to describe. To me this means that’s what we are supposed to be doing with whatever skills we have to offer.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There were so many more patients than we were able to treat, I am eager to return!