DLR, Grossman Burn Foundation & Hollywood Special Effects Legend Team Up To Make a Difference in Southeast Asia
By Randy Roberson / Co-Founder Disaster Logistics Relief LTD -
A unique grouping of talents from world renown burn treatment specialists and a leading Hollywood special effects guru incorporated the award winning international telemedicine expertise of DLR to bring critically needed aid and hope for a brighter tomorrow to people suffering on a tiny island in Southeast Asia. It was somewhat of a change from the mass causalities DLR often faces in large scale disasters, but for those whom we served, the disasters they face are still every bit as real and terrible.
I have had the privileged of knowing Dr. Peter Grossman and his wife Rebecca from the Grossman Burn Centers and Grossman Burn Foundation for several years. They operate two world renowned burn centers in California and have recently started another at St. Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix. Internationally they have also become well known for their amazing work with burn patients from Afghanistan and other countries. Their patients have graced the cover of Time Magazine (CLICK HERE TO SEE IT), their work was featured on Oprah and one of their truly amazing stories was also featured nationally on ABC (CLICK HERE TO SEE IT).
To say I am always amazed by their work would be an understatement. Aside from their amazing work in reconstructive burn treatment, Peter and Rebecca are also remarkably high quality people with beautiful hearts and they are cherished friends. So when they asked me to provide an international telemedicine solution to enable them to see patients and train surgeons a world away, there was of course only one possible answer, “I would be honored to do it.”
In the developing world burns are common as most people cook over fires. Clothing catches on fire, hot oil gets spilled and lives are forever changed or often even lost as most have nowhere to turn for help. Left untreated these burns injuries can kill.
Our mission was focused on starting the first burn treatment center to an entire region of Southeast Asia. It is focused through a small yet amazingly effective hospital which, along with an orphanage, is operated by a Christian ministry. The name of that ministry and location are not being disclosed here due to security concerns because of a history of violence against Christians by extremists in that area.
A total of five flights and twenty one hours in the air brought us to the steamy jungles where our team of five quickly went to work. There were some patients which the Grossman Burn Foundation had previously assisted and some new faces to meet as well. My part of the operation was to analyze some existing satellite equipment variables, figure out how to make them work for telemedicine and provide the computer software platform that would sustain the live audio/video link back to the United States.
The hospital had some limited satellite capabilities but thus far had never been able to use it for telemedicine purposes. The bandwidth (signal speed) was too slow and as a result the software they had previously tried did not work. The satellite provider had been contacted prior to departure. Battling through what I perceived to be their somewhat misleading excuses about the amazingly low amount of bandwidth they were providing despite charging that ministry $1500.00 per month, they promised us special test speeds needed to do our job. Despite their promise, they still did not produce even the amount of bandwidth that most cell phones here in the states typically provide. Nonetheless we had a special trick up our sleeve.
In numerous disasters, where I have previously provided telemedicine and disaster management emergency communications, we were always forced to figure out how to get by on extremely low levels of bandwidth. Cell towers are always down and internet connectivity can only be obtained through extremely expensive satellite communications. The current rate for the bandwidth we use in mobile BGAN backpacks for live telemedicine on the INMARSAT Network is $18 per minute. This clinic is using a much larger 3 meter C-Band dish, but was only supplying a very low bandwidth level.
Having tried just about every solution on the market to see what worked best in these austere conditions I have opted for a solution used by US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. ”VSee is a low bandwidth and secure telemedicine software that requires less than half the bandwidth of Skype. In addition to video conference, VSee provides one-click screen share with live annotation and medical device sharing”. CLICK HERE FOR VSEE INFO
The first patient was brought in for Dr Grossman in Los Angeles to see live via satellite. He had terrible burns to the back of both legs. Our team was led by Rebecca Grossman who had led teams to this location in past and as such was no stranger to the local culture and the struggles the people there face. Their foundation had treated other patients from this area who we would also see during this 10 day mission but this was a new patient.
Kellie, a nurse from the Grossman Burn Centers was also on our team and began to change the patient’s dressings while Dr Grossman performed a close up assessment of the patient’s wounds from 8000 miles away. We were forced to perform this procedure in the orphanage school office as that was where the satellite equipment was located. They had previously tried to use wifi to link the office to the hospital several hundred yards away but with no success, DLR will soon be providing a hardware microwave link solution for that as well.
As is the custom in many parts of Asia all shoes are left outside when entering a building. This is true here even in the hospital. I have visited numerous clinics all over Asia and have never visited one that was so spotless and clean. The local team, headed by a husband and wife from Australia do am amazing job of providing medical care for all the local residents. They also exemplify Christian love and compassion, not only for the patients, but also dozens of orphans who they feed, teach, house and nurture at their 75 acre jungle compound.
The hospital treats everything from trauma patients and OB/GYN concerns to numerous cases of infectious disease which are common to the area including malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, various skin infections and even leprosy.
This is made all the more difficult as modern medicine is still not widely accepted by some local indigenous people. One young teenage patient in the hospital recently had something lodged in his eye. Instead of initially seeking modern medical care, he went to the local “witch doctor” who placed his own mixture of ingredients on the boy’s eyes. It resulted in the death of both eyes, leaving him completely blind.
Then there was the amazing story of a man crippled by leprosy who lived by himself in the jungle. He was an outcast and treated like an animal by the local population. Leprosy had taken his fingers and toes and was well on its way to causing even more disfigurement and impairment
He told us the story of how he heard one day that a white woman wanted to come and see him. Local people sneered at him saying, “She probably wants to come to hang you.” White skinned people are not common here and the idea of one coming left him nervous and frightened.
When the woman arrived he was initially terrified, then suddenly amazed as she reached down to lift his face up to look him in the eyes. He hadn’t had people touch him in a very long time. In fact he lived in a simple shelter in the jungle, never even changing his clothes for years at a time. The woman was the one who runs the hospital where we worked. She asked him if he would come with her to live at their compound. He agreed and they were able to get him the needed medicine to stop the leprosy from further ravaging his body as it had for years I was tremendously humbled to hear his story and his beautiful Christian testimony of how God came to him in the jungle through this white woman.
Next would come a case which the Grossman’s had done a significant level of planning for. It was another woman, much like the one in Afghanistan which Time Magazine featured, whose husband has brutally cut off her nose with a machete. With their focus not only on burn treatment but also on victims of domestic violence, the Grossman’s extensive network of celebrities was tasked to help. Enter Hollywood special effects legend Alec Gillis.
With nearly three decades of special effects and animatronics experience. Gillis is the master mind behind the special effects in Hollywood blockbusters such as Alien, Tremors, The Santa Clause and many more. For this mission however he volunteered his time and materials to make a collection of prosthetic noses for this young lady.
Prior to our trip her face was measured by local staff for a temporary prosthetic until our team could make an exact mold of her face for a more permanent model. When she entered the room you could feel the tension coursing through her. When the time came to take the bandage off which covered the large opening where her nose used be, you could see she was mortified.
The rubber-type mold was quickly made of the opening on her face by Rebecca Grossman. Her skin tone was matched to a variety of shades on a chart. Rebecca also did a mold of the patient’s daughter’s nose so the permanent prosthetic could be as close to a genetically perfect match as possible. Dr. Grossman in California also reviewed the case via satellite and offered guidance of how to make the permanent prosthetic was as natural looking as possible. All this was taken back to Gillis’ studio in California for the new customized model which will soon be delivered back to the patient.
Of the many shapes, sizes and shades of temporary prosthetics which the team brought, one was singled out as the best to use until the new one arrived. Rebecca trimmed, fitted it to the patient’s face and then showed the patient how to apply it and take it off whenever she wanted.
I watched her face closely when the hand mirror was first given to her so she could see how it looked. She was silent and moved the mirror from side to side to look at her face from all angles. Then, ever so slightly, you could see the corners of her mouth turn into a smile that I liken only to that of the Mona Lisa.
This was not her nose, but it was a radical improvement and you could quickly sense how this would tremendously help return a bit of self confidence back to her again. Her cheeks could also now begin to heal from many months of using tape across her face to hide the disfigurement. Not only that, but in the days ahead she will receive an even better prosthetic, modeled after her own daughter’s nose (also pictured below) so she can return her back to her original appearance once again. All thanks to the Grossman Burn Foundation and a Hollywood legend with a huge heart for others.
It was truly an honor and privileged to be a member of this team. Together we hope to bring the same amazing medical and telemedicine capabilities to many other countries around the world. The impacts can be equally amazing both in the disasters where our work has become well known but also for great humanitarian missions like this that save lives and help people cope with the results of unspeakable atrocities.
But we cannot afford to do it without support from people like you. Please support the Grossman Burn Foundation. We here at DLR also tremendously need your help as we finish our restructuring. The decline of financial markets over past couple years have been tough for everyone. It has resulted in many non-profit charities being forced to close their doors. This was also true of my initial efforts at H.E.L.P.
But we have remained focused and faithful to the work we have been called to do. This has been difficult at times and certainly is right now. But we praise God for what He teaches us through the process. We now have a solid team of highly experienced people committed to the administration, accountability, communications and field effectiveness of this outreach. We remain hopeful we will be able to touch more hearts with the compassion of Christ, remembering, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We also hope and pray that more hearts like yours will be moved to help us help others.
Please consider a year end donation to our efforts TODAY so we can afford to continue these efforts tomorrow. Thank you! May you have a safe, happy and blessed Christmas.
In His grip,