Forever Grateful: A HUGS Story
Quatela Center for Plastic Surgery

Dr. Garritano, Dr. Quatela’s current facial plastic surgery fellow, reflects on a meaningful experience he had with a young boy who was a patient of the HUGS team in Guatemala this year.

“During the year I have had the opportunity to travel with Dr. Quatela on several different medical missions to Guatemala, Ecuador, and Vietnam. During these missions we see many patients that have been born with microtia – a significantly malformed or absent ear. We have the opportunity to perform surgical reconstructions on many of these patients by removing a portion of their rib and using that to reconstruct the missing ear. This is typically done in two stages, meaning patients will return to see us the following year so they can have their second and final surgery. Oftentimes the reconstruction can be life-changing for these patients. Because of their deformity these children are often shunned by their society – they are kept inside their homes, they are kept out of school, and they are never given the opportunity to have a normal life out in the world. When we perform reconstructive surgery on these children we are oftentimes giving them the opportunity to live a normal life.

One patient in particular stands out in my memory. We met a 12 year old boy during our preoperative screening in Antigua, Guatemala. I remember him coming for his preoperative visit wearing a cleverly hand-knit green and white wool hat which had small flaps covering his ears. He was born with a right microtia, and later that week we performed a first stage surgical repair of his right ear. He and his parents remained in the hospital for a couple of days after his surgery and his recovery went very well. He was sent home in the middle of the week, and both he and his family were very pleased with all of the care that he received before, during, and after his surgical procedure.

Our last day in Guatemala this young boy returned to see us for his post-operative visit before the team left to return to the United States. He and his mother were simply thrilled with the care that he received, and they both told us how grateful they were for the help of the entire team and they offered their best wishes and prayers for all of us. He again was wearing the green and white knit hat that covered both of his ears, and I remarked to him that I thought it was a very nice hat. Ten minutes later, as he was getting ready to leave, he surprised me by coming up behind me and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turned around he held out his hand and gave me the hat that he had been wearing. He said that since he now had his reconstructive surgery he would no longer need it. I still have that hat hanging up in my living room. Every day when I see it I am reminded of all the good we were able to accomplish on that mission trip, and I am reminded of how we were able to forever change the life of a grateful 12 year old boy.”

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