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April 6, 2014

Helping hands: Local surgeon changes lives in Ecuador

Local surgeon changes lives in Ecuador

PLATTSBURGH — For the past two years, Dr. Marissa Matarrese has been giving Ecuadorians something that many people take for granted — use of their hands.

“We all need our hands to work, and when you’re in a country like that, if you’re not able to work, you’re nothing,” said the plastic surgeon, who joined the team behind CVPH Medical Center’s Plastic, Reconstructive and Hand Surgery Services last August. “You don’t have the same sort of social programs there that we have here to take care of you, so it really makes a big impact.”

Matarrese, whose local work primarily consists of hand surgeries, but also includes things like skin cancer reconstructions, cosmetic procedures and breast surgeries, recently returned from her second mission to Ecuador with Hands Across the World.

FREE CARE

The Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization makes annual trips to the South American country with a team of plastic surgeons to provide free operations to people with debilitating deformities.

“The health care is provided to the patients completely for free,” Matarrese said.

This February, the team spent about 10 days in the city of Coca, where it set up operating rooms in a local hospital. The group’s 2013 trip, which Matarrese also went on, was to a medical center in the Ecuadorian town of Latacunga.

“We run the hand-and-burn room, which I was in charge of; the cleft-lip-and-palate room for babies that are born with clefs; a general plastic surgery room, (where) they do a lot of ear reconstruction because there’s a lot of kids down there that are born without ears or severe ear deformities; and then, a dermatology room of just lumps and bumps,” she said.

This year, for the first time, the group also brought a podiatry team to assist babies born with conditions such as club feet and extra toes.

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