Every once in a while we stumble upon a story of an employee or community physician carrying Kootenai’s tradition of compassionate care beyond our hospital and clinics. It is through these individuals that our message of community, wellness, and caring can be shared across the region and in some cases across the world. We hope to share these stories thorough our online feature, “Beyond Kootenai.”
Karen Westmoreland, Kootenai Health pediatric nurse, spends one week each year traveling abroad with Faces of Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that provides medical treatment to an underserved population of children, youth, and adults who might otherwise not receive the benefit of surgical treatments for their cleft lip or cleft palate.
“I went on my first mission in 2009 and have been on seven or eight total,” Karen said. “It’s an amazing group that works to pull together resources and medical experts to help these children who don’t have access to proper medical care.”
Each year a group of surgeons, dental experts, speech pathologists, nurses, and social workers travel to areas such as Ecuador and the Philippines perform surgery on more than 50 patients.
“It’s amazing to see the look in the mother’s eyes when she sees her child for the first time after surgery,” she said. “It’s why I go back every year. It’s a blessing for me to be able to go.”
The surgery can take anywhere from one to five hours. The clinicians typically work 14-hour days for five days, hoping to help as many children as possible. Before the group leaves, each child has a follow-up appointment to monitor healing and prevent infections.
“People often ask why I travel to help kids in other countries instead of staying in the U.S. and I tell them it’s because we have a lot of programs to help kids in need here,” she explained. “The rate of facial deformities is much higher in developing nations. Being able to have this done changes their life.”
If you would like to learn more about Faces of Tomorrow, or get involved, visit their website facesoftomorrow.org.