May 26, 2018
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Constructing a world of difference

One country at a time, Dr. Peter Adamson brings hope to children — and doctors — in need

The year was 1992 — not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen. Local otolaryngologist (a head and neck surgeon specializing in facial plastic surgery) Peter Adamson was having a conversation with a woman from Washington who worked for an adoption agency. She was telling him about the thousands of orphans from Russia who had facial deformities. “They couldn’t be adopted because they had cleft lip and much more severe deformities,” recalls Adamson. 

It was then that Adamson and some fellow colleagues felt compelled to help. They rounded up a few surgeons to operate on some of the children and to also provide training for local doctors. Some trips later, the Canadian Foundation for Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (CFFPRS) was formed. Adamson, who runs a private clinic in Yorkville and is the author of Fabulous Faces, has been its president since it was established in 1996.

To date, his team of doctors and support workers have been to places as varied as China, Croatia, El Salvador, Haiti and Cambodia. More than 1,000 children have received surgery, helping improve congenital facial deformities or deformities resulting from war and violence. The operations have saved lives, increased chances of adoption and helped relieve social stigmatization. “In some parts of Russia today, if a child has a cleft lip he can’t go to school because the other parents won’t have that kid in the class with their children,” says Adamson. “That’s how socially behind they are.”

Most times, medically speaking, the regional doctors are also behind. Adamson says it could be because doctors have a hard time accessing the latest information on procedural methods. Or they are restricted from learning about scientific advances because of the political climate. Or perhaps they just don’t have the funding or the equipment to perform modern surgeries. “Money’s a huge issue, and they just don’t get the infrastructure,” he says.

Which is why CFFPRS volunteers also teach during operation missions. Adamson says from day one, local doctors are very involved in the process. They choose what surgeries they would like to learn and decide which patients are to receive surgery. “We’re teaching a man to fish, not giving a man a fish,” he says.

Many of the volunteer physicians return to the same place several times, so that they can help the local doctors on a continual basis. And if they’re lucky, the volunteers also get to follow up with their patients. “I just got one e-mail from a young woman we operated on,” says Adamson. “She’s at university in Bulgaria now, studying law.”

Adamson is currently planning the next mission to Guatemala. He says the surgeons have a lot more work to do. “The work is not just about surgery; it’s about making a person’s life better,” says Adamson. “It’s about improving lives.”

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