‘La Brigada’ Builds Smiles in Honduras

In Honduras, they are known as la brigada, or “the brigade.” And they are on a mission to bring new smiles to patients there.

 The New Faces team in Honduras

At the Ruth Paz Hospital for Burns and Pediatric Surgery in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the New Faces for Honduras surgical mission operates on patients with severe oral and maxillofacial problems in partnership with the non-profit network CURE International. The program comes to Ruth Paz twice a year, in January and June, to triage and conduct surgeries. Dr. Maria Papageorge, Professor and Chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS), went on the most recent trip, which took place from January 11 to 18.

“The surgical mission provides care, provides education, and creates an awareness of need and reflects a desire to give back,” Dr. Papageorge said.

Along with Dr. Papageorge, Dr. Sameer Hate, DG11, and senior resident Dr. Alireza Ashrafi also took part in the mission trip – TUSDM has sent at least one resident on the trip since the New Faces organization was founded eight years ago. Dr. Roderick Lewin, D57, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon based in Fitchburg, is New Faces’ director. He attends every mission, and his program helps fund the travel expenses for residents taking part in the mission. The surgical group also included another oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Patrick Abbey from Tampa, Fla., two certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), an anesthesiologist, and a senior OMFS resident from Christiana Hospital.

The first day there the surgical group triaged 98 patients with myriad maxillofacial problems, including tumors, machete and gunshot wounds, severe scarring, and birth defects such as cleft lips and palates. The brigade works with both pediatric patients and adults, many of whom have been living with their conditions for months or even years without treatment.

“We just don’t see this kind of pathology in the United States,” Dr. Papageorge said. “But there is not enough access to care there, so they have to wait until funds are available or until one of the brigades are able to help them.”

During this January’s trip, the brigade worked 10 to 12 hours per day and operated on 40 of the patients they triaged; the New Faces program provided operating theaters and materials, medications, and for the patient’s stay and recovery time.  The other 58 patients that were triaged will either need to wait until the brigade returns in June, or had conditions that were too severe to be operated on at Ruth Paz. Post-operative care is limited at the hospital, with no post-operative intensive care, and almost no nursing staff. Even with these limitations, Dr. Papageorge said New Faces was able to make a tremendous difference to the people of Honduras.

“The commitment of this organization is truly inspiring,” Dr. Papageorge said. “They work with one goal only – to take care of the patient.”