Smiles for Africa
This past summer, Dr. Christopher Zarella, a pediatric plastic surgeon at Randall Children's Hospital and an active member of the Cleft and Craniofacial Team, took his first trip to Africa, including his first journey to anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Unlike many travelers, Zarella was headed to Zimbabwe to help children in need, joining a second surgeon with a non-profit organization, Alliance for Smiles (AfS), where they performed 71 surgeries in just nine days.
Zimbabwe marked Zarella’s third international trip to perform cleft lip and palate surgeries on children. He has previously been to Wenzhou, China with AfS. His first trip was with Operation Smile, which took him to Juigalpa, Nicaragua.
Zarella continues to volunteer with Alliance for Smiles for a variety of reasons, one being that they travel for two weeks, allowing the surgeons to work on more complex cases and care for more patients. Zarella shared that while in Africa, because of the duration of his trip, he was able to perform surgeries for two different children who'd been denied for three years prior by other organizations.
He shared that he cared for a burn patient who wasn't able to close her eyelids. With ample time for the surgery, as well as follow-up care, he performed a skin grafting procedure, allowing his patient to close her eye for the first time since her accident, which protects the eye from damage and, ultimately, loss.
Although the organization sees mostly children, Zarella was also able to help a young mother who, urged by her oldest child, traveled 10 hours to have her unrepaired cleft lip corrected. "Taking these trips, it makes you realize that first world problems aren't real problems at all," said Zarella. "That was a humbling experience that truly grounded me…we have it really good here."
Heading to Morocco next February, Zarella is excited about the work he can do to help others. "A mentor of mine has done over 30 mission trips, and, I figure, if I can do at least one trip a year, I can make that type of impact before I retire as well," he said.
For media inquiries, contact Ashley Stanford Cone.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Christopher Zarella.