Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Amherst surgeon takes skills, good deeds to new heights

By Katie Reedy NEWS STAFF REPORTER Updated: 05/28/07 6:50 AM

Plastic surgery is not always for vanity.
For Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, an Amherst-based cosmetic surgeon, it is a way to help destitute patients worldwide.
Meilman, who travels abroad annually to perform free surgeries in developing nations, recently returned from his latest trip, this time to the village of Juliaca, Peru.
“It was pretty primitive,” said Meilman, who set up a clinic for two days in order to operate on children with cleft lips and palates. Out of the 60 families that came to the clinic, Meilman’s group was able to operate on 12 of the worst cases. One 18-year-old young man who was badly burned when he was 6 will travel to Buffalo in October for more surgery.
Alexander and Ursula Campanella, of Campanella Orthotics and Prosthetics, accompanied Meilman on the trip in order to donate $15,000 worth of supplies, including back and knee braces and prostheses. The group gave another $15,000 worth of surgical supplies, such as sutures and drills, to the local hospital.
Alexander Campanella, who has traveled with Meilman on trips to Poland, Albania, Nepal, Herzegovina, and Nigeria, said that this trip stood out among the many others he has taken.
“It was very strange because of the high altitude,” he said of the location, which was more than 12,000 feet above sea level. “It was a little frightening, having to sleep where you can barely breathe.”
Campanella said that members of the 12-person crew carried two suitcases each, one for personal belongings and one for medical supplies. He and many of the other volunteers paid their own expenses.
Campanella, an orthopedic surgeon, also assisted in the rehabilitation in 2005 in Buffalo of then 8-year-old Izabela Baketaric of Bosnia, on whose burns Meilman worked for 20 hours, by repairing her damaged feet. Meilman, who founded the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, has led trips to do free surgeries for the last 15 years. He began the missions when he went to Poland to help a woman burned in an accident. He has brought many patients back to Buffalo for treatment.
“A lot of towns and villages have asked us to come back, but so far we haven’t been able to,” he said, citing the hundreds of requests his foundation gets from poor regions.
However, they may make an exception and return to Juliaca in the fall or next year. “It was a ver nice experience for everybody involved,” he said.

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