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Surgeons’ Gifts: Plastic Surgery (Part II) Staff Report

Many plastic surgeons donate their time and remarkable skills throughout the year. Some amazing surgical gifts – usually, bestowed upon complete strangers – allow women victims of domestic violence and others with terrible facial disfigurements or injuries to rejoin society and lead a fuller life.

When Janie Burkett fully awoke, she knew she had to find her son and get out of thatPlastic Surgeons Gifts house. Her estranged husband had crept up on the sleeping Janie and poured a highly caustic mixture of bleach and drain cleaner over her head. The next thought that shot through Janie’s mind was that she had to rinse the burning wetness from her head, then grab her son and flee. But her husband, with malice aforethought, had turned off the water to the house before the attack. So Janie stumbled around, blinded and in terrible pain. Neighbors finally heard Janie screaming and rescued her but the concoction ate deep into her arms, face, scalp, and nose, melting part of a coat into her skin.

Janie eventually escaped the torment, received treatment and started life anew some 1500 miles away and eventually graduated from college. But there were some things her huge willpower could not change: the terrible scarring and bald spots on her head, where hair just would not regrow. After she resettled, Janie read a magazine article about Face to Face, a plastic surgery program for women who had suffered facial injuries after vicious beatings by twisted intimates. Plastic surgeons donate their services as the last step in regaining a person’s life by creating a face that can be presented to the world without shame or embarrassment. Jeanie forgot about the article for several years before re-reading it and deciding to apply. She was accepted and sent to see Cynthia Gregg, M.D., a plastic surgeon near her home in North Carolina.

Jointly administered by the American Academy of Facial Plastic Surgeons and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Face to Face allows certain, selected victims of battering to undergo plastic surgery. (The person must be living completely on her own and be away from the destructive relationship for at least a year.) Usually, the patients are women, who usually regain enough self-confidence and esteem to quit avoiding mirrors, lift their eyes up from the floor, leave the house, apply for jobs, finish school and otherwise resume a more or less normal life. While plastic surgery not only makes faces look better, it can also affect what’s inside the mind and spirit. The surgery is a gift that literally hands people back their lives.

“I get so much out of these patients, I almost feel guilty,” says Dr. Gregg in Cary, North Carolina. “It’s not only important for these women to look good again but to have the physical reminders of abuse gone. One patient said, ‘I want his hands off my face and his hands off my heart.’

“Basically, I do this kind of work because it’s the right thing to do,” says the doctor who has to date operated on about 15 abuse victims and remains close to many as they pick up the pieces of a life almost lost. For instance, Dr. Gregg attended Jeanie Burkett’s recent wedding.

“Face to Face has two arms,” explains Steven J. Pearlman, M.D. president-elect of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. “An international arm does reconstructive work on patients in China, Vietnam and other places overseas. In the U.S., the program helps victims of domestic violence.”

Some physicians in The American Society of Plastic Surgeons take their special skills – usually at their own expense -- to some of the neediest people in the world through another global program, RSVP (Reconstructive Surgeons Volunteer Program.) Yet another organization, the 35-year-old Interplast, sends volunteer surgeons to about 25 sites around the world to correct disabled injuries and congenital deformities. About 54,000 life-changing operations have been given to impoverished patients.

Face the Challenge, a religious and humanitarian organization, usually donates plastic and reconstructive surgery to children with deformities in Third World Nations. But when the organization’s co-founder. Randy Robinson, M.D. of Denver, Colorado, heard about the case of then 16-year-old Shawn Perdon in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, he had to call and offer his help. Shawn was hit by a drunk driver and injured so severely, the last rites were read over him. Shawn spent a month in a coma and woke with terrible facial deformities; including one eye drooped down onto his cheek, a smashed nose, dents in his forehead, scars across his face and sunken cheeks.

“I’ve been in medicine most my life,” says Ginger Robinson, R.N. and Face the Challenge president, “and it took away my breath to look at Shawn. I really had to steel myself to visit at him.”

According to Carol Perdon, their health insurance carrier would not cover Shawn’s reconstructive surgery because they considered it elective, cosmetic surgery, and not medically necessary. Shawn’s appearance was hard enough to bear but the fact that little children fled from him in terror was crushing.

In surgery, Dr. Robinson peeled Shawn’s face back, rebuilt his skull, removing 90 surgical screws from the lad’s face. The doctor used bone grafts and paste to fill in the dents in Shawn’s forehead, rebuilt the left eye, created a new nose, installed cheek implants and created a balanced face.

“My husband and I do this type of work because, from the time we were in college, we wanted to use our skills to benefit people in need and to show the compassion of Christ,” says Ginger Robinson. “Shaw is special to us because our middle son is almost exactly the same age and because he has a soft spot in his heart for little children.”

Just after Leo McCafferty, M.D., started his professional life in a Florida burn unit, Analliese Barnes, then nine months old, was terribly burned in a house fire and brought to Dr. McCafferty’s emergency room. His heart went out to the child because he had a daughter about the same age. It was at first a matter of saving the toddler’s life, but for the young victim, it turned into a life-long relationship. Nonetheless, Dr. McCafferty has never charged her for family his services. And when the doctor moved to Pittsburg, Analliese and her family followed.

“Analliese was burned and severely scared on the left side of her body, from the top of her scalp to the tip of her toes,” says Dr. McCafferty who has performed 31 plastic surgeries on the now 16-year-old to help correct the damage from the fire.

“Whatever your profession, there is a way to help people,” says Dr. McCafferty.

“There is no greater feeling in the world than giving of yourself,” says Ronald J. Canigllia M.D. in Scottsdale, Arizona, yet another plastic surgeon who volunteers his time to victims of domestic violence. “I feel blessed with the skills I have and to help somebody better her life is one of the things that keep me going.”

William Silver, M.D., of Premier Image Cosmetic Surgery in Atlanta, Georgia, yearly donates his services to two or three battering victims who – except for the terrible facial injuries -- are ready for a step up in life.

“I particularly recall one fiftyish woman who had all her teeth knocked out, an eyebrow torn off and many other facial scars,” Dr. Silverman says. After the doctor donated a year of plastic surgery and other restorative procedures, the woman regained a measure of confidence, screwed her courage to the sticking point, brushed up an older college degree and became a top manager at Bell South where she counseled other women victims of battering as part of her job.

And the other patients? What happens when after a surgeon bestows gifts that can not be measured in dollars and cents alone? When a good turn is not repaid, but -- like the movie of the same name -- is paid forward, does one gracious act really cascade down the generations like a river that turns in a delta? Do huge oaks from tiny seeds really grow? Possibly. Let’s take a look at the owners of those repaired faces and see what happened.

Janie Burkett will receive her Master’s degree in human sciences and special education in spring, 2005, from North Carolina Central University. She has worked at a shelter for battered women the last three years. She additionally does commercials for Face to Face for public and commercial television. “I get weepy when I think about the time I wasted in hiding,” she says.

The irrepressible Analliese, now 16, besides being junior class president, competes on the swim team, works on the yearbook and, with an eye toward working in medicine speaks to burn victims whenever possible.

“If you are terribly injured, you have to love yourself before others will love you,” says Analliese. “Every day is another chance to get better. As for Dr. McCafferty, he is, like, totally awesome.”

Shawn Perdon relearned to eat, walk, talk, care for himself and remember although he lost vision in the left eye. Now a high school senior, he enjoys a much improved appearance and is thankful that adults no longer stare and small children aren’t afraid of him.

To view Before and After photos of various cosmetic surgery procedures, Click Here.

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