Repairing Bodies to Rebuild Lives in Mindanao

Aug 21, 2014


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INTERPLAST Australia & New Zealand is a non-profit organization which aims to improve the quality of life for people with disability who are disabled as a result of congenital or acquired medical conditions such as cleft lip and palate or burn scar contractures.


“We do this by sending fully qualified Australian and New Zealand volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and allied health professionals to the Asia Pacific region to provide free surgical treatment for patients who would otherwise not be able to afford access to such services. For us, it’s all about function and enabling full engagement in society,” says its website at


The RC of CDO Team welcomes the Interplast team upon their arrival at Laguindingan Airport last Aug 17 (photo courtesy of Rtns. Mike Mendoza, Mike Baños and Tonyboy Fernandez)


For the past 15 years, the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro, in partnership with Interplast Australia & New Zealand and the Committee of German Doctors for Developing Countries, has sought to change the lives of indigent children afflicted with cleft lips and cleft palates. Led by Dr. Mike McGlynn, a team from Australia & New Zealand has treated over 1,300 indigent children to date since the 1990’s.


The other members of the team are Dr Kevin Ho (surgeon) ,Dr Joseph John McGuinness, Dr. Anthony Paul Birrel, Dr. John MaCarty (anaesthetist) and nurses Sarah Bennel and Dee McGlynn.

Drs. McGlynn, Dr. McGuiness and Mrs. McGlynn have been in all 18 Interplast missions to the city.


The Interplast team with one of their beneficiaries. (photo courtesy of Rtns. Mike Mendoza, Mike Baños and Tonyboy Fernandez)

“It’s interesting to note that the team, through INTERPLAST Australia & New Zealand and the Rotary Clubs of Australia, shoulders most of their expenses for their 10-day missions,” said Project Chair PAG Chito B. Sarraga.

The Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro coordinates the entire program, helps the visitors identify and screen beneficiaries, provides security and in-land transportation, and their other needs.

“Due to the very nature of the project, it has sparked the empathy and generosity not only of Rotarians, but also many other donors and benefactors,” said Director AG Dodie A. Lagrosas. “For this year, the City Government of Cagayan de Oro through Mayor Oscar S. Moreno and the J.R. Borja General Hospital which is hosting the mission through Dr. Ramon Nery, also joined the project.”

Started by PP Caloy Gorospe in Rotary Year 1998-1999, “Operation Put a Smile” has become the signature project of the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro. All of the Australian doctors and nurses who participated in the project over the years have been made honorary members of the RC of Cagayan de Oro.


The team used to do its operations at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) but this year were hosted by the J.R. Borja General Hospital upon the invitation of City Mayor Oscar S. Moreno, through the intervention of City Administrator Roy Hilario  Raagas, a member of the RC of Cagayan de Oro.


Drs Mike McGlynn and Kevin Ho check up their patients at the Interplast Ward. (photo courtesy of Rtns. Mike Mendoza, Tonyboy Fernandez and Mike Baños)


“I can see changes in the city hospital from May till now in equipment, extensions and renovations going on, “noted Dr. McGlynn, who has done 18 previous trips to the city and done some 1,000 operations. “ To help you with that process we have brought an anaesthetic machine from Australia which we will leave with the hospital. We enjoyed working with the local doctors and nurses.”


In response, Mayor Moreno assured J.R. Borja Hospital’s upgrade would take place and is a continuing process.


“Thanks to our friends from Australia,  for having confidence already in JR Borja Hospital at this time when we had to literally scamper in order to prepare the hospital given the little time that we had and we are happy with the way the hospital has been able to assist them in this venture,” he said. “We hope that JR Borja Hospital would be properly equipped so activities like this would be a normal occurrence here.”


According to Dr. Ramon Nery, J.R. Borja Executive Officer, they will be inaugurating on the hospital’s 51stanniversary later this month a new P62-million three storey East Wing which will house its Emergency Room, X-Ray Room, Laboratories and other related facilities.


The surgery for a patient usually takes one hour although Dr. McGlynn said they usually do double operations for beneficiaries who have both a cleft lip and cleft palate. For instance, for August 19, the team seven operations, 3 double operations and one cleft lip.


“For this trip, patients range from 3 months old up to some patients in their 40s, if we can accommodate we will do them,” Dr. Ho said. He said such operations cost around A$20,000 in a private hospital in Australia or up to PhP100,000 for each person in the Philippines. Since the team has already done some 1,300 operations on indigent patients in 18 trips here, that value of the operations alone would approximate PhP130-million.


“Generally we have to do young children first, they need to be integrated into school and society so if we can do that early, it changes his whole outlook,” Dr. Ho said. “Technically children are much more difficult to do they are smaller and you have to be fairly experienced to be able to deal with small children.”


Dr Mike McGlynn fields questions from the media during the Aug 19 press conference at JR Borja Gen Hospital. (photo courtesy of Rtns. Mike Mendoza, Mike Baños and Tonyboy Fernandez)


Asked why they keep coming back to do the free operations on indigent patients who could not possibly pay them back, Dr. McGuinnes replied: “We do enjoy coming over here and it’s nice to be able to come over and help people with our particular talent. And the Filipino people have been very kind to us and they’re marvelous people so we enjoy it. When I go home I’m counting down the days to the next trip.


Dr. Ho believes the operations they do require but a little from them as doctors but empowers their patients to face a vastly brighter future.


“There are few things in life that we are gifted with you can do something very little that takes a small amount of  time but that will one day will make a huge difference and this is one of those.

“To have the Rotary organize this, have the mayor host us, have the hospital organize all this little bits and parts of the machine come together. So when we operate and put the kids to sleep, it won’t be more than 45mins for us at that point. But that child has the next 60 or 70 yrs  to make all the difference.”


“So why do we keep coming back? That little drop in the ocean creates a  ripple and then a wave that you don’t know what the end of it is,” he added.


Mayor Moreno acknowledged the long-term benefits of the mission on their beneficiaries.


“This undertaking as Dr Kevin said may just be a drop in the ocean, but this is very significant to the lives of those who benefitted and imagine growing up realizing they are equal to their group,” he said. “One of life’s most precious gifts is equality. Certainly there are situations where equality does not happen. But then you have interventions, scientific interventions. Imagine the equality that these beneficiaries would be as they grow up as any normal boy or girl.”


Dr. McGlynn said last year Interplast dispatched 42 missions to Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Nepal and multiple sites in the Philippines.


“There is a great need in this area for this type of surgery. Although we’ve done over 1 ,300 surgeries but every time we come we see more patients than we have time to do. That means we haven’t yet satisfied the local need,” he noted.


Although he assures Interplast will be back, he also said the mission’s ultimate objective is to leave a legacy that leaves them out of a job by facilitating medical training and mentoring for in-country medical personnel by supporting and building the capacity of local health services.


 “Over the years we’ve worked with several local surgeons, one works in Marawi, the others have retired or gone elsewhere, one migrated to Canada. But we have the potential if we identify someone we can sponsor to come and train in Australia. We’ve done that with two surgeons from Benguet in the past. The principle is to make ourselves redundant by teaching locals to do that we do so.”  


– I N D N J C –

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