Mission PossibleAug. 24, 2004
It's a sultry afternoon in June and already there's a line of people outside the Guyanan clinic waiting to see Dr. Robert Doriot II, BA '92. He doesn't speak their language, and he's never met them before. But parents sometimes travel for weeks, on foot and in canoes, just to bring their children to him. Why?They know he can help them.
Since 2000, Doriot, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, has traveled to the Central American countries of Guyana and Honduras twice a year for one to two weeks as part of a medical missions team that repairs cleft lips and palates and treats facial trauma. Doriot was introduced to the mission by Dr. Phil Peters, a colleague who made trips on behalf of two charitable Christian organizations. The International Hospital for Children and the Friends of Barnabus Foundation provide medical care and disaster relief for disadvantaged people locally and around the world. In 2002, after Peters' health began to fail, Doriot led teams of his own and this year went on his eighth mission.
Cleft lip/palate -- a congenital deformity marked by a divided lip or roof of the mouth -- occurs more often in Third World countries because of lack of prenatal care and education. Left untreated, the disfigurement can cause infection, impair nutrition and speech and result in social isolation. "To be able to change these kids' lives by changing the way they look is what I consider an incredible honor," Doriot says.
He works in two hospitals on his trips, Georgetown Public Hospital in Georgetown, Guyana, and Hospital Evangelico in Siguatapeque, Honduras. The medical mission team includes seven others, all of whom donate their time and expertise -- two anesthesiologists, three nurses, an assistant and the chief resident from Doriot's alma mater, the Medical College of Virginia. The team sees about 20 pediatric and adult patients a day. In addition, the team members present healthcare information on operation and patient care to hospital staff and neonatal care education to the public to help prevent these deformities, which occur in the early stages of gestation. They also treat head and neck pathology and trauma. Their surgeries are facilitated by specialized instruments donated by Lorenz Surgical and KLS Martin, he says.
Doriot, who lives in Fairfax, Va., and works at the Northern Virginia Center for Oral, Facial and Implant Surgery, hopes to encourage other physicians to see the value of charitable work. "Unfortunately, we become very philanthropic when we get older and not at our young age. The thought is to get people involved at an earlier stage of life," he says.
When team members are stationed in Guyana, they live in a facility for visiting surgeons. In Honduras, they stay in one of the local doctor's houses, a luxurious mansion on hospital property, built to attract visiting surgeons. "We're not exactly roughing it there," Doriot says.
The mission experiences have taught him important life lessons. "I used to take a lot of things for granted. Every time someone literally hands me their flesh and blood, their child, and says, 'I'm trusting you with my child, but I want him back,' it is an honor. I just learned to appreciate everything a lot more," he says. "Hopefully, I won't ever have to stop going."