While maintaining a successful facial plastic surgery practice in the Triad (with a satellite office in Boone), Dr. Neal Goldman also sets his sights far and wide, as his organization HUGS – Help Us Give Smiles – delivers compassion to young patientswho rely on their life-changing expertise. “We help children who suffer from facial deformity be free of humiliation and alienation,” explains Dr. Goldman.
With each HUGS mission trip, the dedicated team packs up surgical supplies, medicines, and generous hearts, and heads to Guatemala and Vietnam, with a goal of restoring smiles to children who thought their smiles might be lost forever. The week-long missions are spent repairing facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate – both frequent in these parts of the world – along with microtia, a deformity where the external portion of the ear is underdeveloped. These patients often require a series of staged surgeries – allowing the same group of doctors to develop a true bond with the patients and their families.
HUGS team members, including surgeons, operating room nurses, floor nurses, and anesthesiologists, treasure getting to know their patients and the opportunity to spread hope for brighter futures.
For Dr. Goldman, it’s the pinnacle of a medical career that launched in his dreams even as a young boy. As a child, Dr. Goldman literally grew up around other cultures, realizing during these years that helping people all over the world was simply in his genes.
In 2010, he was approached by a beloved mentor and friend with an invitation to become involved in a mission trip, and his “calling” came to life. “That first mission to Antigua Guatemala reminded me of those dreams that brought me to medicine and surgery,” he says. “Now I know this will always be a part of my life.”
“Our ability to teach others these procedures has the potential to change medicine worldwide,” explains Dr. Goldman, of what he calls “intellectual inspiration.” In Vietnam, HUGS surgeons not only provide care to the children, but also are teaching the Vietnamese surgeons how to do these surgeries themselves.
Since every trip lands the team in the same country, working at the same hospital, within the same community, on the same week of each year, the process also results in the building of strong relationships. There are three mission trips a year, with anywhere from 20 to 24 medical professionals on each team.
“HUGS has one actual employee allowing for 90% of donations to go towards medical costs. All team members are volunteers who pay or contribute for their own airline ticket, hotel, and medical equipment,” explains Dr. Goldman.
“It’s bigger than just what we do for the children,” he says, noting the groups of patients become a wonderful support group within themselves, where kids with deformities realize they are not alone.
“It helps by just bringing this big group of children together, where they see other kids like them with the very same problem,” he says. “Sixty to 80 kids may show up, along with their parents. Cleft lip or palate babies may go home the next day, but ear patients who often live six or seven hours away, sometimes in villages in the jungle where they have never seen another child with their problem, may stay an entire week.”
For cleft lip and cleft palate patients, the surgery is not all about looks – it is also life-changing. “We hear stories time and time again of how profoundly these defects and deformities can affect these children in their culture. Because of the surgeries provided by HUGS, kids who were bullied and rejected can now go to school and children who never thought they would leave the house can now work as adults.”
HUGS is continuing to expand its missions, with Peru the newest destination for microtia surgeries, and a new program in the works for treating cleft lip rhinoplasty.
HUGS has performed over 1500 free surgeries in underdeveloped countries. “With numbers this high, we have the data that can change how people do these operations, making improvements and refinements in techniques that help other surgeons helping children with these deformities,” Dr. Goldman explains.
From earning their trust to feeling like family, Dr. Goldman is pleased the HUGS team has established such authentic relationships with their patients. “It just feels great!” he says.
The Goldman Center for Facial Plastic Surgery is located at 108 Dornach Way, Advance, NC, 336-245-9595, and at 717 Greenway Road in Boone, NC, 828-278-9230. Visit FacialPlasticSurgeryNC.com for more information on their philosophy and services. To learn more about HUGS, visit them online at HelpUsGiveSmiles.org.