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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

January 28, 2005

MHC Alumna Offers Plastic Surgery
for the Needy Worldwide

When Dr. Kristin Stueber '65 graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1969, she chose the field of plastic surgery in part because of its breadth -- "It's not limited to one part of the body or one age group," she explained. Stueber is director of Baystate Plastic Surgery in Springfield, Massachusetts, and her practice involves reconstructive as well as cosmetic surgery. In 1986, she broadened the scope of her work by joining forces with Interplast, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer plastic surgery services to disfigured children in developing countries all over the world.

Interplast sends teams of plastic surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, and nurses from the United States and Canada to work with medical professionals in developing nations to provide free reconstructive surgery to children with birth defects, burns, and other devastating injuries. Interplast workers also provide education to host country medical professionals to promote medical self-sufficiency.

Most recently, Stueber traveled to Puno, Peru, where she worked with a medical team correcting cleft lips, cleft palates, and other disfiguring problems. Dr. Stueber participated in more than 60 surgeries over the two-week span, all of which were performed in a small Peruvian hospital. "I find these trips to be interesting on a clinical level because I am able to take part in the care of children with problems we only rarely see in the U.S.," Stueber said. "Many of the patients are only presenting to us at an age well beyond when they would have been treated here in the U.S."

Working in a "less sophisticated medical environment" is also challenging, said Stueber. "You meet a bunch of people at the airport, and you're expected to be a finely tuned machine. And with the limited tools and technology, you must think on your feet and be flexible and adaptable with the resources available to you," she said.

According to Stueber, local medical professionals made every effort to attend educational workshops and seminars provided by Interplast team members, so they could improve upon the medical care currently available.

Unfortunately, Interplast's work around the world has been curtailed by terrorist activities, which make travel too dangerous. "Politics is an issue," Stueber said. Nepal -- Stueber's favorite of all the places she's been -- has been put off limits because of Maoist activities there, and a trip to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was canceled when the U.S. invaded that country.

Stueber hopes to go to China and Mongolia in the future. While returning to places where she knows the people and their problems has certain advantages, she enjoys going where she's never been before. "This is a wonderful opportunity to go and take care of people who would not get care otherwise, to educate other medical professionals, and to immerse ourselves in other cultures," Stueber said. "This was my first trip to Peru, but I have been to Vietnam twice and Nepal more than eight times. Each trip to me is rewarding as a physician, but more so as a caring human being."


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