I had the pleasure of sitting down with Prue Ingram, CEO of Interplast Australia and New Zealand, at the ASAPS conference. Interplast is a really amazing charity that many of our awesome Australian plastic surgeons are a part of, and the work they do is life changing. Watch the video of my interview with Prue.
What is Interplast?
Prue Ingram: Interplast is a charity. It’s been around since 1993, and essentially what we do is we send plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, and allied health staff to Asia Pacific countries to provide surgery and, even more importantly, training for the locals and medical professionals.
What can you do to help Interplast?
So, we’re very lucky in that we’ve got a lot of supporters, particularly through the surgical and medical community, and they volunteer their time, but all the programmes cost money. So while they volunteer their time, we need to cover the costs of the equipment, the supplies. We cover the volunteers’ costs if there is an accommodation. And so we’re always looking for funding. We have more volunteers than we can manage to use. We’ve got more requests from our local partners. But what we’re really looking for is funding so that we can meet those requests.
What different procedures do Interplast perform, and in what countries?
So, we do all types of reconstructive surgery. We work across 17 countries in the Asia Pacific region, and we’re very much driven by those countries, and by the local medical professionals and health departments and governments there. So, we only go where we’re invited, and the sorts of things that we do are very much around reconstructive surgery. So, in some countries, we might do a lot of cleft lip and palates. In every country, we do quite a lot of burn scars, some releasing contractures. There are tumours. There are growths, mastectomies at times, all sorts of different things. But the focus of what we do is very much on improving people’s functional ability so that they might be able to go back to work, go back to school, get into school for the first time. And often, things that we take for granted here are just not available in those countries.
Can you give us an example of your work?
An example of the sort of work that we do, and this is quite an extreme case … there’s a little boy called Roxen who was 6 years old when our team in the Solomon Islands first saw him. He had travelled with his family from one of the northern islands, and that’s quite a distance. That’s usually two or three days by boat to get to the main island of Honiara. He got there and he had one of the widest clefts that our volunteer surgeon … and most complex clefts that he had ever seen. And he had to remove one of his ribs to reconstruct his nose. Now, we’re not talking about a hospital in Australia or New Zealand here. We’re talking about a much more basic hospital without the same sorts of facilities. So that’s quite a complex surgery.
He was … Roxen was his name and is his name. He’s an amazing little boy, and over here when people have surgery they’re pretty sorry for themselves on the first few days. What we notice universally is people are so happy to have had the surgery. The families are just over the moon to see the changes that they never thought were possible for their children or for themselves or if a husband who’s got a deformed hand from burns or something like that. So, the kids are there. They’re smiling. They’re saying thank you. Our kids would be crying and doped up on painkillers. It doesn’t happen. So, it’s very different. The team have now seen Roxen for two years. He came back for a second surgery last year, because we have an annual surgical visit to Solomon Islands, and then came back for a checkup this year. And it’s just wonderful to see the change in him, and to hear that he’s at school, that he’s not being ostracised by the other kids and other people in the community. It’s changed his life, changed his future.
Any final thoughts?
There are so many different stories and so many different ways that futures are changed, whether it’s training for a surgeon in some of the basics of plastic surgery, or whether it’s teaching quite complex skills. But, as I said, there are many many requests that we really can’t respond to and it’s wonderful to have a community of plastic and reconstructive plastic surgeons and nurses behind us. And anything that you can do to help with us would be just wonderful. So I really … to find more about us, go to our website and sign up for our monthly newsletter, and you’ll see some amazing stories and some different ways that you can help.
Listen to the Podcast with Interplast’s Prue Ingram
Interplast are an amazing charity who do some life-changing work in less fortunate countries, providing plastic surgery to those who need it most. I caught up with Interplast CEO Prue Ingram at a plastic surgeon conference to catch up with the latest news on what Interplast are up to.
Whilst cooking a large pot of sticky noodles to raise money for a local temple Aye Aye slipped and fell with the boiling pot of noodles falling all over her. The super hot noodles continued to burn her as they stuck to her skin. Aye Aye’s burns were so severe she was not able to sit, stand or walk without pain and even after four months of bed rest, still had an extremely difficult time lying down and going about her daily personal care tasks.
Aye Aye had no access to physical therapy or the proper treatment for the burns however her determination and hard work meant she could finally walk unaided with a stick around six months after the trauma. However, Aye Aye’s leg still bled and discharged when she moved or walked which was exerbated by the absence of compression garments which are usually essential to burns victims of this kind. It was around this time that Aye Aye’s mother became very ill and Aye Aye neglected her own wounds and pain to care for her mother leading to a massive ulcer forming behind her knee.
Interplast helps Aye Aye
Last year at the age of 43 Aye Aye met with the Interplast volunteer surgical team at Yangon General Hospital. Associate Professor Michael Leung, Volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Interplast, said Aye Aye’s ulcer was chronic and would not heal without surgical intervention. So a team of Interplast surgeons and local surgeons worked together to excuse the ulcer and repair the wound with a skin graft. Associate Prof Leung says, “Unfortunately, because of the scarring, she won’t have full range of movement, although her walking will improve. Once healed, she will be free from pain.”
Aye Aye was lucky enough to be given three months paid leave from her work, but this had long expired and Aye Aye’s husband had left his job as a carpenter to care for Aye Aye in hospital while Aye Aye’s sister had been helping to look after their six-year-old son.
“When I recover, I will find another job and return to work,” Aye Aye said.
Aye Aye still faces a significant amount of recovery and rehabilitation until she regains her independence and Aye Aye and her husband have been relying on the goodwill of family and friends to support them with money for food and medical supplies. Finding bus fares for the four-hour round trip will be difficult for the repeated clinic follow up visits Aye Aye will need after she is discharged from hospital.
But for now, Aye Aye and her husband are so thankful that they have conquered their first – and biggest – obstacle with the help of Interplast and local surgeons. With the gift of surgery, Aye Aye and her family can now begin the healing process.
She was also grateful for the hand-knitted teddy from Maketu Rotary Club that she can give to her son. “Everyone has been so generous, and we are so thankful that Interplast is helping us,” Aye Aye said.
To donate to Interplast head to their website. To learn more about their amazing work you might want to check out the stories
Sulochana, now 8 years old, was born without a thumb and experienced great difficulty when eating, learning how to write and perform everyday functions. She was teased relentlessly at school and was in tears when she told surgeons about her experiences.
But today she is smiling because, for the first time in her life, she has a thumb! Thanks to Interplast volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeons and the local medical team in Nepal, Sulochana had a new thumb reconstructed from her index finger. This is the first time this procedure has been performed in Nepal, and it provided vital learning opportunities for local surgeons.
Interplast volunteer surgeon, Mr Damien Grinsell, said Sulochana was delighted with her new thumb and she has been diligently exercising her hand to strengthen her grip. “Sulochana’s case demonstrates the high level of competency the Nepalese surgeons have for learning complex procedures,” he said. “I have enjoyed working alongside local surgical teams in Nepal since 2008 and I have had the privilege of watching them grow in confidence to perform most of the complex cases that present to them when Interplast is not there.”
Damien continues to provide advice to Nepalese surgeons online, sharing photos and advice about advanced techniques. “The cases they see are of injuries or deformities that have been left for so long that they become far more complicated than what we see in Australia,” Damien said. “Together, we hope to increase access to early intervention among Nepalese communities, for better health outcomes.”
We are avid supporters of Interplast here at PSH. If you’d like to donate you can buy Interplast dollars from our shop where 100% of your donation will go to Interplast, or you can donate directly through their website.
Jane was 26 years old when her right hand was severed during an attack with a bush knife. A deep laceration on her left arm forced her fingers on her left hand into a clawed position and unable to be extended.
Without the use of her remaining hand, Jane lost her ability to care for herself and her son. Her son was three years old at the time and her husband had left them years earlier.
Before the attack, Jane was solely supporting her son and on track to become a mechanic. Not only that, as the eldest child, it was important for Jane to also help her parents and her siblings. After the trauma, the tables turned and she relied heavily on her ageing parents and younger siblings to help her and her son survive.
She desperately wanted to regain her independence.
Jane travelled for six hours to reach Modilon General Hospital in Madang, Papua New Guinea for hand surgery. Interplast volunteers Dr Peter Maloney and Kay Suter worked alongside the local surgical team to release Jane’s fingers on her remaining hand. Jane also undertook intensive physiotherapy by Interplast volunteer and hand therapy specialist, Penny McMahon. Penny taught Jane how to regain the use of her left fingers and thumb, and how to use her right elbow flexion (the bend in the elbow) to hold small items.
A year later Jane has worked hard to build upon the physiotherapy she received with Penny, and has since taught herself how to write, use a knife, brush her teeth and comb her hair with her left hand. Jane can also carry a bucket with the stump of her right arm.
Penny told us Jane travelled to Modilon General Hospital for this year’s follow up clinic in a small bus that was hampered on their way by a mudslide. “All the passengers had to get out and pull the bus through with chains and ropes,” she said. Including Jane. “Jane was determined not to miss the Interplast team, because she wanted to show us what she could do.”
Interplast has delivered hand surgery and hand therapy training in Madang on an annual basis for nine years. With further funding, Interplast can continue to deliver this life-changing program. Donate today and you can help more people like Jane to regain their independence.
You might know by now that I’m a huge supporter of Interplast, an amazing charity that helps to change the lives of people in less fortunate countries, who otherwise would never have access to the surgery they desperately need to live a normal life. I feel extremely honoured that Interplast shared this story of a little boy, Iowane from Fiji, with a cleft lift – it’s truly heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.
Iowane, from Fiji, was born with a cleft lip and the social effect it has on his life was massive. As a 4 year old, he never left his mother’s skirt as she tried to protect him from the teasing and taunts of not just other children, but society in general.
Iowane’s condition impacted on his relationships in his community, but it also created big complications when it came to eating and growing healthily. While Iowane is a tall boy for his age, he is painfully shy. His mother Saumia said she always felt ashamed of his deformity. Interplast tell us this is a common response from parents in the countries in which they work. However, Saumia also desperately wanted surgery for little Iowane and said it was her dream to find someone to fix his lip and had promised her little boy over the years that she would find someone to do it so the other children wouldn’t tease him any more, or look at him as though he were so different.
Interplast send surgical teams to communities such as the one Iowane lives in and last year surgeons Craig MacKinnon and Sarah Usmar operated on Iowane’s cleft lip with amazing results. They say little Iowane recovered super quickly and was even able to purse his lips to blow bubbles the next day!!
I was told that Iowane’s mother Saumia breathed a huge sigh of relief when she was told that her son’s surgery was a success, and that she cried – no doubt with relief and hope that her son would now be accepted into society and be able to make friends and play like every four year old should. She would have been relieved, like every mother, that her son had a chance of a better life and better future ahead of him.
It’s stories like Iowane’s that make me even more proud of our Australian plastic surgeons. Many of them are involved in charities like Interplast (you can read some of their stories below), and the lives that they change for these little children and adults cannot be underestimated or undervalued. When we live in a society where access to this type of surgery is taken for granted, I feel it’s important for those of us in a position to support these charities should absolutely do so.
To find out more about Interplast’s life-changing work, visit www.interplast.org.au, sign up for e-updates or click https://www.interplast.org.au/donate to make a donation that will help change futures.
As a premier tourist destination for many Australians, Fiji is full of beautiful resorts, stunning beaches and lush countryside. However for the 880,000 residents there is a large and ongoing need for Interplast Australia & New Zealand’s continued support.
Fiji remains a developing country with approximately 15% of its population living in poverty. Despite access to health care services improving, many still struggle to receive timely treatment. Health care costs are also high relative to incomes and access from outer islands is difficult. Compounding these challenges, in Fiji there is only one qualified plastic surgeon to support the entire population. Fijian surgeon, Dr Semesa Matanaicake has received extensive training from Interplast volunteers and continues to receive support from Interplast to build the plastic surgery capacity in Fiji. In small countries with so few surgeons, there is limited capacity for specialist training and building a sustainable workforce is challenging. This makes Interplast’s ongoing work vital within the Fijian community.
Sereana’s story is just one of many. Born with a a bilateral cleft lip and palate, Sereana still remains a vibrant and enthusiastic girl with her whole life ahead of her. Having to undergo several surgeries, unfortunately surgery alone does not completely treat Sereana’s condition. Her speech was also affected by her cleft lip and palate. Serana recently had her second cleft lip repair – her third operation in her short life – however, alongside Fijian medical staff, the Interplast team determined that Sereana would benefit from follow-up speech therapy to give her the best possible outcome. Had Sereana been living in Australia this follow-up care would be easily arranged, however Fiji does not have a specialist speech therapy service. Instead, local physiotherapists trained by Interplast speech pathologists have taken on this important role.
Thankfully, Sereana will benefit from the care of a Fijian physiotherapist who will provide support to assist in her speech development. Most Fijian medical professionals have received teaching and mentoring of Interplast’s allied health volunteers, helping to lead Fiji to being more independently able to provide necessary health care and services to their residents.
For Sereana, the journey to recovery will be long and challenging, however as Interplast has shown in its more than 35 years of operation, they will continue to provide support to developing countries and as many patients as they can, for as long as required. Sereana is on track to make strong recovery from surgery and continues to improve with post-operative support.
Patients such as Sereana are only able to have access to care through the generosity of Interplast supporters. All Interplast donations are tax deductable – if you’re looking for a way to make a difference in peoples’ lives, this is a great way to do it. You can also purchase Interplast dollars through the Plastic Surgery Hub shop – every single dollar goes straight to Interplast.
For more information on Interplast check out their website or you can read the blogs below:
- My work with Interplast as a plastic surgeon – by Dr Damian Marucci
Trip to Tonga – Life Changing Plastic Surgery with Dr Graham Sellars
What are you giving ?
Interplast believe every child should be able to smile. Your donation will help bring a smile to children like Phigy.
Interplast Need Your Help and Financial Support
Having first gone to the Solomon Islands in 1984, Interplast Australia & New Zealand is now working in 17 countries across the Asia Pacific region and has undertaken approximately 45,000 patient consultations, together with 26,000 surgical procedures. Importantly, through your generous support we have been able to build local capacity so patient care can be delivered when Interplast isn’t there.
Globally, it is estimated that 143 million additional surgical procedures are needed each year to save lives and prevent disability. Many people requiring this support live in the Asia Pacific region.
Interplast will never be able to do it alone, but our commitment to building capacity amongst health professionals in the region means each year we can ensure more children are able to smile.
Please assist Interplast to undertake life-changing work across the Asia Pacific region by making a tax-deductible donation. To donate or find out more please visit: www.interplast.org.au