In 1983, Dr. Ernest Cronin and fellow physicians Drs. Thomas Cronin and Raymond Brauer set out to make a difference in the lives of children suffering from craniofacial and cleft palate deformities in Latin America. In the years since, CHRISTUS Operation San José has visited nine countries with over 1,500 surgeries made a reality through 135 physicians, specialists and medical volunteers.
While COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to CHRISTUS Operation San José trips, we reflect on the impact of previous work. In Dr. Ernest Cronin’s book The Healing Mission of Plastic Surgery: One Surgeon’s Story, Dr. Cronin reminisces on the program’s trips to Peru. Following is an excerpt from the book.
Perhaps the most interesting area we have visited with Operation San José has been the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. There we saw the most colorful native costumes. Some of the patients and their families did not speak Spanish, but only native languages. A mother walked for days carrying “Roberto” from a remote village in the Andes so that he could have his cleft repaired.
Our first trip to Peru was in 1995 to the city of Arequipa. When we arrived at the clinic where we were to work, the patients were lined up in the halls and cheered and gave us a big applause as the team exited the bus and entered the clinic.
However, when we checked out the operating room, we had to find a new home for the dog who was living in that space. The following year the same clinic had three brand new operating rooms built with the help of a group of Peruvian-American surgeons from the US. Peru was one of our most exciting destinations because of the cultural aspects of the native population.
The oldest cleft lip patient we repaired was a 60-something-year-old lady, “Quesha.” After her surgery, there was no space for her to stay overnight, but Marvin Zindler, who accompanied us to Arequipa to report on our program, paid for her to stay overnight in a local motel.