Mountain View Voice

News - May 17, 2013

Helping the helpless

Mountain View NGO helps developing countries through plastic surgery

by Nick Veronin

Though burn victims in this country may emerge from the hospital with significant scars, chances are they will ultimately be able to return to their day-to-day routine — even if people's stares make them uncomfortable.

But according to Susan Hayes, president and CEO of the Mountain View-based ReSurge International, burn victims in the developing world may not even be able to do that. When people are severely burned all over and they do not receive the right kind of burn treatment, their skin may heal in ways that ultimately make normal movements impossible.

Since 1969, ReSurge International has worked to establish better burn clinics all over the developing world. They've also worked to give doctors in the developing world the tools to perform reconstructive surgery on those born with a cleft palate.

"In developing countries where stigma is rampant, correcting disfigurements and disabilities is sometimes a matter of life and death," according to Sara Anderson, a spokeswoman for ReSurge.

That's why ReSurge held a conference from May 11 through May 14 — inviting plastic surgeons from all over the world to come to Mountain View and share their knowledge on repairing cleft palates, performing plastic surgery on burn victims and following up on surgical procedures with physical and occupational therapy.

Amy Laden, ReSurge's director of international service organized the conference, which was held at the organization's headquarters at 857 Maude Ave. Laden said the idea was to get people sharing ideas with each other, with the hope that fewer and fewer people will suffer from easily correctable maladies in the developing world.

Dr. Shankar Rai of Nepal, one of the speakers at the conference, said that cleft palate surgery is rather simple — often taking only 45 minutes to perform. However, in those 45 minutes a child's life can be transformed forever. "The children who have cleft lips and deformities are sometimes discarded" in Nepal, he said. Surgery is perhaps the easiest way to ensure that a baby is not given up to either die on the streets or grow up in a crowded orphanage.

Perhaps most importantly, it contributes to a country's economy if someone can return to the workforce instead of living on the streets or staying hidden away inside. Hayes said they figure that for every $1 they spend on reconstructive surgery in the developing world the local economy gets as much as $17 in return.

Established in 1969 at Stanford University, ReSurge was based in Palo Alto for a time, but has been in Mountain View for 13 years.

According to Hayes, having their non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Silicon Valley is both unusual and incredibly beneficial.

Most NGOs are based in Washington, D.C. or New York City, Hayes said. "You would think as an international organization, that it wouldn't make all that much difference to be here. But it makes a huge difference that we're in Silicon Valley."

The tech entrepreneurship has helped the organization network and streamline operations all over the world in innovative ways and being in the Valley helps attract lots of venture capital as well as young globally minded millennials that have a different approach to problem-solving than NGO veterans.

"Board room conversations are different here than they are on the East Coast," Hayes said. "It's almost in the air and the water."

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