Last month, a team of West Virginia medical professionals traveled to conflict-ridden Haiti with a mission to perform surgeries that would change lives, tackling a lengthy country-wide waitlist and inspiring the next generation of doctors.
Interplast WV, Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded by retired plastic surgeon Dr. David Fogarty with the mission of sending medical teams to developing nations. They largely perform reconstructive surgeries on children with cleft lips and palates, resolve other congenital anomalies and provide burn care. This not only improves the quality of life for the patients but also empowers them in pursuing or continuing their education or careers.
In the 30-plus years since Interplast WV’s founding, Fogarty has traveled to 15 different countries performing countless operations. With this mission to Haiti, he now tallies 114 total trips with Interplast WV.
In recent years, especially following the 2021 assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise, violence committed by criminal groups in Haiti has increased drastically, leading to widespread poverty, inadequate healthcare and a collapsing economy.
Despite warnings from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti advising Americans to leave the country due to this worsening conflict, Interplast WV chose to follow communications from hospital contacts in Pignon and proceeded with the trip as planned. As a result of these dangers, other surgical mission groups have halted trips to Haiti and 15 hospitals have shut down in the country, leaving residents without reliable sources of healthcare. This created an even greater need for Interplast WV’s aid, with a long list of patients traveling from around the country to receive treatment.
At the beginning of last month, a team of 11 medical professionals arrived in Pignon, Haiti, consisting of surgeons, anesthesiologists, operating room nurses, post-anesthesia recovery nurses, and a general surgeon — nine of whom were from West Virginia.
Over 30 operations were performed, primarily cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries on children between 1 and 10 years old, as well as burn reconstructions. These surgeries not only restore physical health but also allow patients to reclaim their self-esteem and social lives. Interplast WV also conducted lectures on pediatric anesthesia and purchased intubation equipment to donate to Haiti hospitals.
“I think some of the hospitals had groups that would come in and do cleft lips and palates, and since they weren’t coming, there was a backlog. That’s why we mostly had those types of patients,” said Fogarty. “It’s kids who get ostracized and bullied and can’t go to school because they have a visible congenital anomaly. They’ve had this extended period of time and never really developed socially and emotionally. We do something that takes an hour and a half and all of a sudden, they’re back outside running with the kids again.”
Fogarty’s journey began as a resident at Stanford University in the early 70s when he participated in a medical mission trip coordinated by the program chief who initiated the university’s own Interplast initiative. Inspired by this experience, Fogarty completed his residency, spent a year volunteering in Africa and returned to Morgantown to establish his own program.
Now, he aims to set this very same spark of motivation in young medical students and professionals. With Fogarty’s help, a chief resident at WVU has started his own 501(c)(3) to carry on the mission of Interplast WV.
“I’ve been trying to pass the torch along,” said Fogarty. “We just had a few younger people that came on this last trip and they’re essentially hooked. So that becomes an important aspect. I don’t want it to die, because I’ve been doing it for 50 years or so — and it won’t [die], because we have people now that are stepping up.”
Interplast WV intends to plan annual missions to Haiti and aims to begin multidisciplinary trips involving general surgeons and OBGYN professionals. The organization’s next trip will be to a new site at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic in May.
To support the efforts of Interplast WV, donations can be mailed to Interplast WV, Inc. at 873 Old Route 73. Bruceton Mills, WV 26525. For more information, contact email@example.com.