MISSIONS OF LOVE
Dr. Rick Scheetz is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who has been a Fellow of the International College of Dentists for twenty years. About seven years ago he was asked by Kathleen Price, a woman from his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, to help provide care for the extremely poor indigenous people of Guatemala. She had already sought help from the US Government and had become the largest user of the DENTON program in the United States. This program delivers excess goods, materials, and gifts collected by charitable organizations to poorer countries while training US military pilots to fly large transport aircraft.
Rick’s brother, Chuck was in the medical industry and had been helping Kathy Price obtain surplus goods. It was through Chuck that Rick Scheetz was recruited. Over the years they have flown tons of grains, clothes, supplies, medical equipment, wheel chairs, building materials and even a couple of buses using this federal program.
Kathy Price was dedicated, tireless and persistent, and was supported by her attorney husband Bob quietly in the background. At the beginning, they had a plastic surgeon who worked primarily repairing cleft lips and palates. When Rick joined the Mission of Love team he brought with him significant experience in bone grafting, nasal surgery, maxillofacial surgery, tooth removal and anesthesia. The plastic surgeon eventually left and Rick was able to recruit two exceptional oral and maxillofacial surgeons: Dr. Carlos Ugalde, who was fellowship trained in craniofacial surgery and practices in Portland Oregon, and; Dr. Guillermo Chacon who was the program director and Acting Chairman of the Ohio State University Department of OMFS, and now a private practitioner in Tacoma Washington..
Over time, many other volunteers have given their time including Rick’s wife, Cindy who is an RN, his surgical assistant and officer manager, Joyce, his son Derek, a surgical assistant, his niece, Kristin who is a speech pathologist, her husband, Shannon, an ex-Army helicopter pilot, Joyce’s daughter, Lindsay, an OB-GYN nurse who has a child with a cleft palate, Don Pavlov as a translator, and his dentist brother, Bruce Pavlov. Also volunteering were Dr. Chacon’s wife, Molly (from Youngstown), his surgical assistant, Dakota Williams, Chuck Sheetz, and Rick’s high school friend, Kurt Zabel. Chuck and Kurt are chief procurement officers and facilitators in Youngstown, and on the site, at the hospital in Guatemala, they were able to utilize their great negotiating skills. Dr. Rick Kapitan joined the group on one trip. Dr. Todd Bolotin, an emergency room physician and translator was on several trips. Drs. Chacon and Ugalde were godsends as they are both phenomenal surgeons.
The hospital in which they work is a former three-story hardware store in Guatemala City run by a bright, charitable, energetic and skilled general surgeon. Dr. Edgar Moran can perform almost any surgery imaginable with the assistance of his surgeon brother, Edwin. Others doctors at the hospital were Dr. Frinee “Numero Uno” (a hospitalist), Dr. Bayron (an anesthesiologist), Dr. Frinee “Numero Dos” (an anesthesiologist), and other physicians. The people of Guatemala made the volunteers feel most welcome and they were served delicious lunches every day in the hospital cafeteria.
As the hospital has no elevators, surgery is performed on the first floor and post-operative patients are wheeled up a ramp to the second floor. On the third floor is the cafeteria, doctors’ offices, and an open air laundry. The wash was done by hand and hung to dry until the Mission of Love provided a washer and dryer.
Dr. Scheetz and his fellow surgeons have provided evaluations, multiple and varying surgeries as simple as removal of grossly abscessed primary teeth to repair of cleft lips, cleft palates, alveolar cleft bone grafts, and cleft rhinoplasties. In addition, they have performed complex orthognathic surgeries with limited equipment, and complex craniofacial surgeries including reconstruction of an entire hard and soft palate on a woman who had had the removal of both for cancer, treatment of a 5-year-old boy who had to be fed with an eye dropper due to severe ankyloses of his temporomandibular joints, and orthognathic surgery on a twenty-year-old woman subsequent to involved orthodontic treatment.
The children and their parents, especially those parents of the cleft children, are grateful beyond belief and very stoic. When asked about pain on days following surgery, even after taking bone from their hip to reconstruct maxillary alveolar clefts, almost all would respond “No dolor”, meaning “No pain.” Once, after Rick finished a simple surgery, the interpreter, Dr. Bolotin, told the boy’s mother what he had done, and she responded to him for two minutes in Spanish. Dr. Scheetz later asked what she had said. Dr. Bolotin replied, “If I tell you what she told me, I will start crying.” These poor Guatemalan people are so very appreciative as they rarely receive the care they need.
The Mission of Love Foundation also has an orphanage, clinic, school for disabled children, a rehabilitation clinic for elders in Tecpan, Guatemala. Additionally, they run a home called the “House of God”, which is similar to a Ronald McDonald House serving children with cancer
There are so many other things Dr. Scheetz remembered: visits to an orphanage run by nuns; a petting zoo run by Dr. Moran for local kids; parties, out in the country; climbing a semi-active volcano and roasting marshmallows in the hot vents; nearly the entire team contracting salmonellosis at a popular fried chicken place; meeting the attorney general of Guatemala who presented the Mission of Love team with certificates; and, most of all, the feeling they all experienced from the opportunity of helping these people in simple ways, and their extreme appreciation. To read more about the Mission of Love see www.missionoflove.org.
A very nice cleft lip repair by Dr. Carlos Ugalde under difficult circumstances, forever improving her life.