John McCoy of the Broomhall Rotary Club Talks on Rotoplast

We were pleased to welcome both John McCoy

and Seth Rosenberg from the Broomhall Rotary Club to our meeting this morning.

John provided us with an informative overview of Rotoplast (https://rotaplast.org/),

whose mission is to provide long time solutions by funding and coordinating surgical missions in developing countries; training and mentoring local physicians; launching public education projects; and advancing research.

Rotaplast International, Inc. was founded in 1992 by Dr. Angelo Capozzi

and the then Rotary Club President Peter Lagarias

in collaboration with the Rotary Club of San Francisco to facilitate a surgical program in La Serena, Chile to treat children with the cleft lip and palate anomaly who would otherwise not receive surgical intervention. This initial historic mission took place in January of 1993.

As a project of the Rotary Club of San Francisco, and for the first three years of its existence, Rotaplast completed one surgical mission a year. The following two years, Rotaplast completed two missions a year. In 1996, Rotaplast became a separate non-profit corporation and has since consistently expanded its number of annual missions. In February 2015, Rotaplast sent its 200th mission and to date has served over 17,000 children. Twenty-six countries have hosted Rotaplast teams, including Vietnam, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Romania, China, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Brazil, Bangladesh, Mali, Togo, Liberia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Tanzania, Myanmar and the Philippines. Hundreds of medical and non-medical volunteers who give their valuable time, and generous organizations such as hospitals and medical equipment companies which give supplies, account for the consistent success and expansion of Rotaplast missions.

Rotaplast would not exist without funding provided by partners. Although a San Francisco-based organization, Rotaplast works nationally and internationally by partnering with Rotary Clubs, other organizations, and individuals across the United States, Canada and mission sites. It provides a vehicle for medical professionals and non-medical volunteers to actively engage in projects that build international friendships and promote goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world.

Highlights & Accomplishments

1996

Rotaplast becomes a separate non-profit corporation.

1997

Rotaplast expands missions from 2 to 4 per year and hires an Executive Director.

1998

Rotaplast operates on its 1000th child in Cumana, Venezuela.

2000

Rotaplast expands its core program to include genetic research.

2001

Rotaplast establishes a Prevention and Treatment Center in Mendoza, Argentina.

2002

Rotaplast begins working in Asia.

2004

Rotaplast facilitates its first mission to India.

2005

Rotaplast completes its 80th Mission and reaches over 8,000 children by year’s end.

2006

Rotaplast expands to Africa with an inaugural mission to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

2007

Rotaplast operates on its 10,000th child in Cumana, Venezuela.

2008

Rotaplast visits Nepal and Brazil for the first time in its history.

2009

Rotaplast travels to Egypt for its first mission in the Middle East.

2010

Rotaplast completes its 150th Mission, in Dessie, Ethiopia.

2011

Rotaplast travels to Chittagong, Bangladesh for the first time.

2012

Rotaplast operates on its 15,000th child on its first Mission to Bamako, Mali.

2013

Rotaplast travels to Monrovia, Liberia and New Delhi, India for the first time.

2014

Rotaplast travels to Sylhet, Bangladesh for the first time.

2015

Rotaplast travels to Arusha, Tanzania for the first time.

2016

Rotaplast travels to Naypyidaw, Myanmar for the first time.

2017

Rotaplast completes its 225th Mission, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

2018

Rotaplast travels to Narnaul, India for the first time.

2019

Rotaplast travels to Luxor, Egypt for the first time.

Although many of our members had heard a presentation by Paul Quintavalla, another Broomhall Rotarian and former District 7450 Governor, John, despite not being able to share his presentation on our Zoom screen, provided some additional information we’d not heard before and also related some of his reflections on the Rotaplast 2018 mission to Monrovia, Liberia, in which he participated.

Fred Edelman was able to put an even more human face on cleft palates and cleft lips of us when he related that he was born with such an affliction and required several surgeries at Columbia University Hospital during his early childhood and subsequent elocution lessons as CCNY at the age of just 7.

Since 1999, Rotaplast International has been the District’s official committee for providers of reconstructive surgery of cleft lip and cleft palate for children. Their goal is to fund and participate in medical missions to underdeveloped countries where children cannot be helped otherwise. The District 7450 Rotaplast Committee was founded by District Governor Daniel Bronson and has conducted nearly twenty missions to third world nations every year since then.

Its outreach serves over twenty-six nations in Asia, Africa, South and Central America and Eastern Europe. The medical missions are requested by Rotary clubs in nations where free medical help is not available from the government or private organizations. Rotarians are the primary funding organization of Rotaplast. The Rotaplast family is comprised of over 400 Rotarian volunteers, 20 board members and 6 paid staff. It is recognized by Charity Navigator as a 4-star Charity; it’s highest rating.

Rotary volunteers are encouraged to participate in a mission. The medical teams include up to 19 medical volunteers and 10 Rotarians. No prior experience is required. Rotaplast provides training for volunteers to become mission directors, quartermasters, medical records keepers, sterilizers, photojournalists, interpreters, and other roles needed to assist in all aspects of a mission.

During John’s Liberia mission there were between 20-24 participants; 10-15 medical professionals and 6-8 Rotarian volunteers.  He emphasized that while not medically trained, the Rotarians are fully integrated in the effort and often have an opportunity to be in operating theater during surgery and able to witness even the most delicate procedures.

These are not “vacation” trips.  Among the regular and time-consuming jobs Rotarian volunteers undertake are ferrying patients to and from the operating rooms, cleansing and sterilizing the equipment and other important jobs to help the doctors and nurses.

Normally, the first day or two of a mission is taken up with interviewing and scheduling appointments.  Local Rotary Clubs and other organizations will have “advertised” the dates Rotoplast missions and set up initial screening appointments..  While cleft palates and lips are the primary operations performed, in Liberia a number of patients with out-of-control keloids and even a girl’s hand on which her fingers were fused together we addressed.

Once surgery begins, they try to operate from around 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  However, in some countries, such as Liberia, where the power is only on for a limited number of hours each day, schedules need to be modified accordingly. 

At the St. Joseph’s Hospital where his mission was operating, the power didn’t start up until 8:00 and went off at 6:00 PA.  During one surgery which was taking much longer than anticipated, it wasn’t until 7:00 PM before it was finished, requiring negotiating with the man in charge of the power switch to keep the lights and other electricity on.

John was frank to admit that the conditions at that hospital were poor, at best and the people on the mission had to bring nearly all of the equipment that they would require.

Patients and their parents (most of the patients are children) often have to travel great distances.  And while the medical procedures and services are free the patients and parents need to pay their own transportation.  The Mayor, upon learning that while the city had advertised the surgeries would be without costs, was influential in a local fund-raising to offset some of these transportation costs.

Apparently, the hotel John and his fellow Rotarians were staying at, while 5-star in Liberia (it had hot water, although unpredictable, spotty internet, toilet paper and even air conditioning, was a challenging place to live.  Of its 7 stories only the bottom four were finished … those above had no roof or windows.

As it was Monsoon season, it rains daily, although not all day.  However, the environment was a breeding ground for mold which was pervasive everywhere.

Some 65% of the country’s population still live in local villages.

While English is the official language of the country, the dialect spoken is nearly unintelligible to Americans and local translators are often essential.

Monrovia apparently has 9 traffic lights … but only 7 were actually working when John was there. 

As soon as we get our Zoom Share Screen capability straightened out, John will be invited back to share his presentation and photos with us.

Bob thanked John and Seth for their time and most information presentation.