Patient Care

Humanitarian service spans decades for WashU otolaryngologists

photo of John Chi with local surgical residents
John Chi, MD, MPHS, with two of the surgical residents from Guatemala.

Washington University Otolaryngology faculty members John Chi, MD, MPHS, and David Molter, MD, are celebrating special anniversaries that represent decades of humanitarian service.

photo of Chi operating
John Chi, MD, MPHS, in the operating room on a recent mission trip to Guatemala.

Chi, division chief of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, has spent the last ten years volunteering with Medical Missions for Children, a group that provides quality surgical and dental services to poor and under-privileged children and young adults throughout the world. Chi also serves as a leader on the AAO-HNS Humanitarian Efforts Committee and co-authored the AAO-HNS position statement on global humanitarian outreach.

He most recently (June) visited Guatemala City, Guatemala on a cleft lip and palate mission trip. In addition to performing cleft lip and palate repairs, the group provided instruction to local physicians and nursing teams on the care of cleft lip and palate patients.  According to Chi, provider education with the hope of developing a self-sufficient system to provide local medical care is one of the group’s primary goals. On this particular trip, 69 patients were screened and 35 surgeries performed.

The Guatemala trip is an annual event for Chi, who also leads a group to India each Fall. His humanitarian work has also taken him to Ecuador and China. Financial support for the trips have come through Doximity and AAO-HNS humanitarian travel grants.

A 25-year relationship with Nicaragua

A pediatric otolaryngologist, Molter is a founding member of Mayflower Medical Outreach, a group formed 25 years ago under the leadership of his former chief resident and lifelong friend, James Saunders, MD. The collaboration, he says, exemplifies the kind of enduring relationships with resident peers that he hopes WashU ENT graduates will also forge.

photo of Molter in Nicaragua
Dave Molter, MD, and former WashU ENT resident Sunitha Sequeira, MD, during one of his many trips to Nicaragua.

Molter’s outreach takes him to Nicaragua, primarily Jinotega in the northern region, but also to the capitol city of Managua where the group offers didactic and surgical instruction to the residency program in partnership with the local medical school.

Molter explained the range of care offered has evolved over time, reflecting the growing expertise of their Nicaraguan partners.

“My personal favorite is airway surgery, but these are often limited by ICU availability,” he said.  “Congenital masses are common, and our most intricate procedures are generally in the field of otology.”

Sometimes trips are spearheaded by a surgeon with a specialized interest, allowing us to focus more on those specific procedures and patients during that time. At other times, the priority is determined by the most time-sensitive cases among the local patient population. After encountering children whose hearing loss was too severe to benefit from hearing aids alone, the group helped establish a residential school for the deaf that currently serves about 25 students from first grade through high school.

Students at the school for the deaf established by Mayflower Medical Outreach.

For Molter, the trips are filled with joy, enriched by the extraordinary efforts and experiences of their Nicaraguan patients and partners, and something he plans to continue doing. The most rewarding experience he says is introducing people to mission trips for the first time.

“It’s fulfilling to see them advance in their roles within our organization,” he says. “But, even more so when they take that newfound passion and channel it into contributions within other organizations.”