Jan. 1, 2007

Giving kids a smile

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Cokato Dassel Rotary’s Christmas program included DC graduate and plastic surgeon John Ness, who spoke about his volunteer service in Rotaplast International.

Rotaplast International is a non-profit humanitarian organization which provides free reconstructive operations for children around the world, focusing primarily on cleft lips and palettes, according to Ness.

Rotarian and Pastor Dan Swanson invited Ness to speak at this particular time of year because “He really makes a difference in the lives of children,” Pastor Swanson said in his introduction.

Ness began by explaining that volunteerism is a new concept to people in the parts of the world he has worked in including the countries of Asia, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

These countries are also where clefts are more prominent due to vitamin deficiencies. Although the true cause is unknown, clefts are most common in countries with rice-based diets, Ness explained.

A cleft lip or palette, is what Ness described as being a zipper that got stuck during the development stage.

He treats both unilateral or one-sided clefts and bilateral or two-sided clefts in, mostly, children.

Rotaplast’s mission is to give free service to the children in need, all the while having volunteer doctors and nurses training others to do the same after they leave.

In his last visit, in September, to the Philippines, he completed 73 surgeries in eight days, and 139 total.

Partly inspired by the words of his parents Bob and Mari Anne Ness, his mother would say, “Leave things better than you found them,” and his father would say, “Put things back where they belong,” he said. Combined, Ness feels that is exactly what he is doing, he said.

The children Ness and his team help are as young as three months old. The younger the child is, the better it is for development to occur more normally, including speaking and eating, according to Ness.

Ness also explained that the older kids are often treated differently and discriminated against because of their facial differences.

Many of these families have nothing, Ness explained, and wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of such surgery.

Ness became involved after a friend of his, a Rotarian, invited him on one of the trips. Now, Ness is planning another trip next year.

Rotary clubs internationally sponsor the projects, in which Rotaplast coordinates with a host club in the city they are to work in. Ness happened to work in Bogo City in the Philippines.

Ness, being a visual person, said he finds his job and volunteering very rewarding.

“It’s a blessing to see something change instantly, right in front of you,” he said.

Ness explained that it’s more often the parents who shed tears of joy after their son or daughter has had reconstructive surgery.

“They have nothing to give you, other than ‘thank you’,” he said.

“I’m just thankful I’m able to do this with my training,” Ness said.

For more information, go to www.rotaplast.org.

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