South Shore doctor helps out in San Salvador |

South Shore doctor helps out in San Salvador

Dr. Ron Gemberling, left, followed young Marlon home with his mother, Carla, to share in his recovery and a celebration planned by the family.

Sometimes the changer is the changed.

That appears to be the result of Dr. Ron Gemberling’s recent work in San Salvador. He returned to South Lake Tahoe last month with perhaps as much of a story to tell as the Central American children whose lives have been altered by his plastic surgery.

His 10th such trip in the last decade, Gemberling went to El Salvador to fix deformities like cleft lips and palates, taking part in 67 surgeries at the Hospital Nacional de Niños Benjamin Bloom. The Rotary sponsored the trip through “Rotaplast,” a global nonprofit project established for children in need. The surgeries on this trip were valued at $330,000. Gemberling has also traveled to the Philippines, Honduras, Venezuela, Guatemala, China, India and Romania to accomplish the same goal.

Gemberling called this 12-day mission – encompassing 17 medical practitioners and nine non-medical volunteers – “a gratifying trip.” He stills gets e-mail updates from a few families, some of whom traveled great distances to have one or sometimes two surgeries.

“The social impact is tremendous. They become productive members of society,” he said, recounting the rewards. “They’ll spend their entire lives (as a family) saving to get on a bus to bring them to this point. Some people walk.”

When the mothers arrive at the hospital, they sleep in the wards to offer moral support to their children.

This type of deformity is prevalent in many third-world countries. The children are often rejected or tormented, often lacking the self-confidence to lead productive lives, Gemberling said.

“A child is born every two minutes with one of these deformities,” he said, pointing to reasons including hygiene, malnutrition and pollution. Birth defects usually occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Gemberling and his colleague Deborah Price went on behalf of the Rotary Club in Saratoga, where the South Shore doctor manages another office.

The two volunteers have become so involved in the project and its recipients that they even followed 6-month-old Marlon Mata home to Cojutepeque to share in the celebration with his family. The surgery on his bilateral cleft lip took almost three hours to complete, a common period of time for the procedure.

The surgeon enjoyed the well-rounded opportunity to get a glimpse of the families’ lives.

“You don’t usually get this opportunity very often – to be involved in the pre- and post treatment,” he said.

“Some (of the cases) really stand out. It’s so rewarding to see them crying with joy,” said Price.

Rotaplast provides the logistics, solicits donations, transports medical equipment, staffs the volunteer teams, conducts site visits and works with the sponsors. The program started in 1992 by San Francisco attorney Peter Lagarias and surgeon, Dr. Angelo Capozzi.

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