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Priceless procedures: Surgeons donate expertise for those in need

by Olga Deshchenko , DOTmed News Reporter

"Unfortunately, when a lot of women [are in] an abusive relationship, they usually don't work, they're very controlled by their aggressor," says Dr. Andrew Jacono, the organization's national chairman. "They don't have money or even health insurance to get treated, even though they may be very disfigured."

The organization completes about 150 to 200 charitable surgeries per year and approximately 400 surgeons offer their expertise.
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As an initial qualifier for the surgery, a woman must be completely separated from her partner for at least a year, often enlisting the help of resources offered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to accomplish this.

However, a complete separation from an abusive partner is not a guarantee for the surgery.

"Just because somebody has a problem in terms of disfigurement doesn't mean that it can be well-repaired or healed," says Jacono. "It depends on what you start with - there may not be a lot of surgical options. We don't just do surgery for the sake of doing, we do it because we know we can make the difference."

And the disfigurements tend to be severe.

"Pretty much anything you can imagine could happen with a baseball bat or a sharp object," says Jacono.

For Jacono, the work of Face of Face is some of the most gratifying in his practice as a plastic surgeon. Public awareness about the available help is key he says, as the organization strives to help women put their abusive past behind them.

Challenges & benefits
The underlying challenge of pro bono surgery boils down to one factor - money.

At board meetings, the Plasticos Foundation often debates what regions of the world it should go to next, as capital is limited.

"We have a waiting list of countries that we'll never be able to afford to go to," says Nichter.

Between the cost of flights and supplies, a trip for a team of 16 people adds up to $40,000 to $60,000. Fortunately, the advent of the digital age has enabled the Plasticos Foundation to shave off a few days from its missions. E-mail and digital photos allow doctors to partially screen patients before they arrive to the site and determine what supplies are most critical.

Although the missions are financially burdensome, it's impossible to place a monetary value on the significance of restoring a normal life to a child or the personal rewards for those who choose to go on medical missions.

"At times, these trips become almost addicting for participants. They come back with this new appreciation. We go to places where people don't travel to," says Nichter. "I cannot tell you the number of times I've heard people say that their lives have been changed by a single trip by changing forever the lives of others."
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