In 1983, Dr. Ernest D. Cronin, then Chief of Plastic Surgery Service at CHRISTUS St. Joseph’s Hospital, was invited by the government of Honduras to evaluate and treat patients with cleft lip and palate deformities. The first team consisted of Drs. Ernest and Thomas Cronin, two senior plastic surgery residents, and a surgical nurse. Many children received consultation, and approximately 25 operations were performed under the auspices of Dr. Cesar Enriquez.
With that trip, CHRISTUS Operation San José began. For 37 years, the program has annually provided surgical missions to Mexico, Central and South America performing surgical repair of cranial and facial birth defects to indigent children. Since inception, over 1,500 surgeries have been performed at no cost to patients.
CHRISTUS Operation San José alumnus Dr. Donald R. Collins, Jr. was introduced to the program during his plastic surgery residency. In 1993, Collins traveled to Caracas, Venezuela as part of the team led by Dr. Cronin.
“Participating on this trip showed me the tremendous impact that this program has to help patients with cleft lip and palate problems and to educate the local physicians on the most current and up-to-date procedures for these conditions,” Collins said.
This surgical training of host-country physicians led to the formation of organized groups of plastic surgeons continuing the treatment of their own patients in their own countries. Local programs created as a result of CHRISTUS Operation San José include CIRPLAST (Peru), Nicaplast (Nicaragua), Foundation Estrella (Ecuador), and Fundapafi (Venezuela).
For Dr. Collins, working side by side with Dr. Cronin on the trip was “the highlight of his plastic surgery residency.”
“Dr. Cronin’s dedication and commitment to CHRISTUS Operation San José Mission is truly remarkable! For so many years, his leadership and guidance have helped a multitude of patients and made the program a model for safe and productive surgical mission trips.”
While Dr. Cronin has since retired, the program continues under the medical direction of Dr. Michael A. Lypka, a previous mission trip resident.