Cosmetic Surgeon Leads Mercy Missions Abroad
Dr. Edwin Moreano, a plastic surgeon who resides in Bayville, with daughter Gabriella, 11, and son Cameron, 13, has been leading missions to Ecuador and the Dominican Republic since 1999, where he performs free birth deformity and burn reconstruction surgeries for the poor. | Photo credit: Danielle Finkelstein
Edwin Moreano isn’t the only doctor leading missions to impoverished regions in Latin America. Nor is he the only one treating severe burns or birth defects.
But the Bayville plastic surgeon’s mission, now in its 13th year, stands out for its focus on the same patients.
“We go back to the same places every year,” he said, noting many patients need more than one surgery. “If you don’t go back and take care of the kids you’ve left, you’ve only gone halfway.”
This month, Moreano will take 32 volunteers to his native Ecuador for eight days. Of 14 trips coordinated since 1999 by the doctor’s nonprofit, Middle of the World Medical Mission, seven have been to Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and five have been to the Cotui-La Vega region of the Dominican Republic.
About 3,000 people, with conditions such as cleft lips and palates, have been helped, according to Moreano.
Repeat visits also allow his team to treat people who couldn’t be reached previously, Moreano said, and provide healing time for those needing complex, multiphase surgeries. This includes ear reconstruction, in which rib cartilage set to the skull may require a year before being properly grafted and connected to the inner ear.
“The reward is seeing the people after you’re finally done,” said Moreano, 43, who runs his daily practice from Jackson Heights, Queens.
Some mission volunteers met Moreano during his various research stops, which have included Minnesota and Alabama. Others, like West Islip ophthalmologist Gregory Persak, connected through a nurse who traveled with Moreano.
“The people we treat have great patience,” said Persak, who has been on five missions since 2004, handling serious cataract cases. “You have 50 people in line, and you work as fast as you can, but if you tell them to come back tomorrow, they will.”
Patients travel from remote regions, often needing donations to afford bus fare. Moreano said his team conducts its own surgical evaluations to ensure there is no favoritism.
Dick Hoistad, a Seattle ear, nose and throat specialist, has been on all but two missions. He said Moreano has carved such a niche with his work in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic that “he’s almost like a trademark down there.
“The way that he communicates with people is quite extraordinary for a surgeon of his caliber,” Hoistad said. “There’s a connection to the people and the community.”
On this year’s April 17-24 mission, Moreano will continue the tradition of encouraging volunteers to take their children. Two of his — Cameron, 13, and Gabriela, 11 — will be in tow.
Cameron, who has been attending missions since age 6, helps wipe down trays and carts. Gabriela helps escort patients to see the doctors and, this year, will bring some of her old toys as gifts for the local children.
“These are people who have nothing, so it’s good perspective,” he said. “It instills in them the idea of service without expecting a reward for it.”