I was watching Discovery Health over the weekend, and they had a series of shows about abnormal children and the surgeries they had to go through. One girl was a “mermaid baby,” her legs were fused below her waist, and another had Treacher Collins syndrome, basically, the bones in her face had not formed and she was born with no eye sockets, ears, nose, or lower jaw.
It seems to me that in extraordinary cases like these (somehow born to poor couples, although the T-C girl was born in Florida) there is no shortage of doctors willing to take on these cases.
I imagine the doctors are driven by the urge to heal, but is there also an interest to get their hands on a rare case, for the experience and also bragging rights on “I fixed her!” Please note, I am not trying to impugn the reputations of doctors, and if I had a child with a deformity and some surgeon wanted to fix her for free just to write about it in a medical journal, I’d say go for it. Are we only hearing of the most extreme cases, or are there always doctors willing to sacrifice to fix abnormalities? And is there motivation other than pity and an urge to help?
This is barely helpful, but since no one else has responded I’ll add my two cents. I used to work in a pediatric cardiology division in a hospital. During that time I heard of one “please fix this child for free” case that I can recall, and I believe the solicitation came from a representative for the patient directly to our department - and, I suspect, straight to other hospitals as well - it wasn’t like the doctors saw the case on the news or something and said “poor child, let’s do something about this.”
The problem in this case was not the generosity of the doctors in question, but of the hospital proper and of all the other departments’ billing sections. As anyone who’s spent any time in a hospital (in the US) can tell you, you don’t just get one bill. Examining physicians, surgeons to perform the procedure, anesthesiologists, the hospital itself, everyone who has a hand in the surgery also has one in the billing, and I do recall that the hospital itself was not as enthused about this planned act of charity. I don’t recall if it was performed at that institution, or not.
There is also the matter of a surgeon’s confidence in his or her abilities - some of those surgeries might be so complex that the doctor might question whether he/she is the most qualified person to do this. I assume another consideration might be bad “publicity” if you don’t get a good result.
Doctors are as complicated as everyone else. Some are very charitable, some are very motivated by reputation-building, and some are a mix of both of those impulses.
I’ve never seen “why” explained–it just seems self-evident to me. Here are some children suffering with some of the worst abnormalities ever seen, and I’m a doctor who can help. Of course I’ll help. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something really unusual, and to really make a difference in someone’s life. Someone who would be shunned and feared, in many cases.
I watched one about a badly burned child from someplace like Afghanistan. The poor thing’s face and body looked like it had melted together. It became critical when she could no longer eat. You’d have to be made of stone not to want to help someone like that.
I know many unsung surgeons and surgical nurses that do charity reconstructive cases all the time, in the US and in the 3rd world, and who get next to no recognition, no papers out of it, no addition to their practice skills. They do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
One of the surgeons in our hospital lost 10 relatives (siblings, nieces, nephews, basically most of his family) in the Asian Earthquake that hit Pakistan. He is now re-building their local hospital and working there for free, mostly with his own money and also with donations from other doctors and the medical school.
There is a Dublin obstetrician who runs marathons for the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and someone who takes a month every year to do cataract surgeries in the developing world.
One of my classmates went to Moldova to do an elective in an orphanage there- when she arrived a child died every day, so she set up a charity Outreach MoldovaNeedless to say, the situation is much improved. Now she is back to finish her degree so that she can go back and work there permanently as a doctor.
Lots of people do extraordinary things, very few do it for the glory and recognition.
I know Doctors Without Borders is an excellent group. I just found it very heartwarming that no matter how extreme the case, there always seems some doctor willing to help. Yet in the case of the “mermaid baby,” the child was born in a remote village in the Andes in Peru. A doctor in Lima heard of the case, and he actually stated on camera that he would drive up and take the baby by force if necessary to help her. That caught me a bit off-guard.