Dr. James Anania is leaving on a two-week vacation today.
But the anesthesiologist at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home won’t be sitting on a sun-drenched beach, soaking up rays and drinking margaritas. Instead, Anania will be volunteering to help repair the cleft lips and palates of poor children living in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
He is making his second trip to Vietnam with ReSurge International, a nonprofit organization formerly known as Interplast that has been performing free reconstructive surgery on the poor in 14 developing countries since 1969. ReSurge International’s volunteer teams of doctors and medical professionals have performed 95,000 surgeries on people ranging from as young as 6 months to their teens.
“It is very rewarding to do this procedure,” Anania said. “It is a life-changing experience for children. Without it, they would be ostracized in these countries. They do not have the finances to repair these deformities.”
Anania will be part of a team of professionals from the United States and Canada. Along with a second team, they will perform 40 constructive surgeries in the village of Cao Lanh.
“You want to help as many people as possible during that short period of time,” he said.
The teams bring all their own equipment and supplies.
“We bring a couple of trays of instruments, an autoclave steam sterilizer and two simple anesthesia machines. It is minimal, basic stuff,” Anania said.
The group does not bring blood with them, so it tries to avoid complicated procedures, even though the surgery sometimes involves operating near the patient’s brain.
“It is more technical. We want the lip to look nice when it heals,” Anania said.
There are follow-up visits with patients, and it is at these meetings that Anania encounters great satisfaction. “They are thankful, especially their parents,” he said.
Anania has worked at Nathan Littauer for the last four years. Before that, he worked in Cooperstown at Bassett Healthcare for 15 years. He is married with grown children.
He started volunteering with ReSurge in 2008 and went to Vietnam that year and to Peru in 2011.
“I will continue to make these trips. As I get older and decrease my workload, I will do this once a year, at least,” he said.