Meet the volunteer:
Dr Peter McGonigal
Dr. Peter McGonigal is a retired dentist based in Dublin, who recently travelled on medical mission to Bacolod, Philippines. He’s recapped his mission experience below.
In May I travelled on my first Operation Smile medical mission to Bacolod in the Philippines as a dental volunteer. I chose Operation Smile because I was impressed with their humanitarian ethos, and wanted to use my skill as a dentist to give back.
I was naturally a little nervous - travelling to a foreign country and working with a strange team under unfamiliar management will always arouse interest! Thankfully I’d been prepared well by the Operation Smile team, and once I arrived and began working any anxiety soon passed.
The screening area, where patients come for their medical examinations prior to being selected for surgery, was an open-sided gymnasium about the size of a football pitch. It filled up quickly as patients and their families arrived, eager to see the medical team, and hopeful of receiving surgery.
Screening itself was frantically active, with many patients to see. It was also very hot! It was particularly interesting to see the older children with cleft conditions who came to receive surgery. In contrast to the infants, these children were aware of the problem they had and they were looking forward to their operations with quiet confidence.
After screening, the surgery schedule was announced. For those who were to receive surgery it was elation, and for those who weren’t disappointment. Unfortunately, sometimes patients cannot receive surgery. They may not be healthy enough due to infection or malnourishment. Sometimes they are too young. Any patients not offered surgery on this occasion were provided with any necessary treatment, and invited to come again to the next mission. Operation Smile will be able to care for them at another time, and this hardened my resolve to do more missions.
Through five operating days, the Operation Smile team worked very hard together to provide 139 surgeries. The surgery itself was of superb standard and scope, and it was great to be part of such a professional team.
One patient particularly stood out for me on the mission. A baby with a family retinue with him whose mother had passed away due to complications with childbirth. His fate contrasted sharply for me with that of my two most recent grandsons, both of whom were younger than he was. I have four grandchildren, and it’s impossible for me not to compare their lives with that of the patients in Bacolod. It was a privilege to work for those children, and to contribute to a mission that enables them to have safe surgery.
It was a pleasure to be a part of this medical mission, and do what I was trained to do, plain and simple, without any of the attendant complications of a busy practice. It was an honour.