Most people don’t think of plastic surgery as a lifesaving craft.
But after receiving critical skin grafts and reconstructive surgeries from a group of New York plastic surgeons, hundreds of Haitians hurt in the earthquake that ravaged their country in January are evidence to the contrary.
One such Good Samaritan doctor who spent two weeks performing pro bono surgery on Haitians in January and February will be the guest of honor at Monday night’s Mets game.
Dr. Donald Roland, the founder of Vanity 4 Humanity, will throw out the first pitch when the Mets take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field. He is being recognized for his own work and for recruiting other doctors to travel to Haiti in the wake of the Jan. 12 disaster that claimed an estimated 230,000 lives.
“This is why you go to medical school to be a doctor,” said Roland, 43, who does mostly cosmetic plastic surgery at his Manhattan practice. “It reconnected me with all of those feelings and emotions.”
Roland and his wife started Vanity 4 Humanity about two years ago to offer women and children in Third World countries a chance to receive expensive reconstructive surgeries for free.
The charity’s first foray into pro bono surgery was in November 2009, when it joined with the Divino Niño Foundation on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic. The Elmhurst-based nonprofit group matches children in need of surgery, often to correct birth defects or scarring, with medical facilities in New York City.
Roland, along with 14 other doctors, performed 160 surgeries, including mastectomies on women with breast cancer and skin grafts on burn victims.
“We got back [to New York] and the Haitian earthquake happened,” said Roland, who set up shop in a hospital a half-hour from the Dominican border on Jan. 21.
There, he performed 15 to 20 surgeries each day.
“The surgery, oddly enough, was very basic,” he said. “We were in the business of trying to save arms and legs from being amputated.”
He performed “mini tummy tucks” on children to harvest skin from their abdomen, and prepared wounds for skin grafts that were completed when Vanity 4 Humanity raised enough money to buy a $40,000 skin grafting machine.
Roland estimates he performed more than 100 surgeries in two weeks. When he returned to New York, 15 plastic surgeons traveled to Haiti in shifts to continue where he left off.
“It was an amazing thing to be a part of,” Roland said.