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Some U.S. travelers depart for Central America packing flip flops, suntan lotion and snorkel gear. Victoria Uribe, MD, and her travel companions are more likely to transport medical supplies, some as specialized as prosthetic ears. And there are usually some teddy bears and coloring books tucked in for good measure.
In September 2016, Dr. Uribe, a pediatrician with Elmhurst Clinic, completed her fourth medical mission to Rivas, Nicaragua for Healing the Children (HTC), an organization whose volunteers provide much needed medical care to kids in underserved areas around the world.
“Traveling to Nicaragua I see parents who want the same thing that my patients’ (families) in the U.S. want – for their children to be healthy and grow up to be happy and successful adults,” says Dr. Uribe.
“Unfortunately, these (poorer countries) don’t have the resources that we do.”
HTC provides most of its care through the mission trips, but in some situations, HTC will fly a child to the U.S. for an otherwise unavailable surgery or treatment.
In one case, Dr. Uribe says HTC arranged for 3-year-old Daisy to travel from Nicaragua to the U.S. to treat a very large growth on her upper lip, a condition called an arteriovenous malformation. Successful surgery to remove the growth was provided free at Highland Park Hospital in June 2016, with plastic surgeons Michael Epstein, MD and Bruce Bauer, MD donating their surgical services.
Dr. Uribe spent time with Daisy both before and after her surgery, and then followed up with her in September in Rivas when Daisy was back home.
“The surgeries that the program provides make such a difference in the lives of children like Daisy and their families,” says Dr. Uribe. “It reminds me why I chose pediatrics. It’s so rewarding to help children and make them smile.”
The HTC mission teams typically consist of about 12 people, including a surgeon, anesthesiologist, pediatrician, operating room and recovery room nurses, and translators. The pediatrician and surgeon screen the children to determine who needs surgery.
Because she can speak Spanish, Dr. Uribe communicates directly with the families during the screening and in health education after surgery. She says she’s seen children with such issues as malformed ears, cleft palates, extra fingers and toes, and burns from motorbike mufflers – a common and more affordable mode of transportation in Rivas.
“Healing the Children has taken orthopedic, ENT (ear, nose and throat) and plastic surgeons on these mission trips,” says Dr. Uribe. “They provide training for local surgeons in treating clubfoot, removing tonsils and performing simple plastic surgeries.”
She says 22 surgeries were performed on the most recent trip. On the national level, the volunteer-run HTC organization has helped more than 250,000 children in more than 95 countries since its beginning in 1979.
Learn more about children's services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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