Surgeon travels across the world to help heal war wounds
The medical director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Upstate was part of a medical mission trip to Ukraine in September.
Sherard Tatum, MD, a professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics, was one of eight surgeons who volunteered for the trip that was organized through the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The academy’s nonprofit group, Face to Face, has arranged similar trips to countries all over the world for the past 30 years.
“From our previous experience in war zones, we knew what kind of civilian and military injuries there would be and that they would be needing help. So we thought we would try to offer that,” says Tatum. He is the academy’s president-elect.
Tatum and other surgeons from New York City wound up operating on 35 Ukrainians during their nine-day trip. About two-thirds were soldiers and the rest civilians with maxillofacial trauma. “That means they were hit in the face with projectiles, either bullets or shrapnel from explosions.” One patient was a child with facial burns.
The surgeons spent the end of the summer reviewing imaging scans of the patients they would see in Ukraine. A Belgian company called Materialise donated 3D-printed titanium implants customized for each patient. Johnson & Johnson donated sutures, and Synthes and Stryker donated screws, brackets and plates needed for putting bone back together, Tatum says.
He packed light, so he had space to carry medical supplies. The group flew into Krakow, Poland, and took a bus across the western border of Ukraine to the city of Ivano-Frankivsk. They coordinated their services with the hospital’s otolaryngology department. After the surgeons returned to the United States, the doctors in Ukraine could confer via videoconference about how individual patients were healing for several days, until all were discharged.
Tatum says the lush, rolling hills and farmland of Ukraine reminded him of Upstate New York. He found the people “incredibly warm and welcoming, and their bravery was standout for me.” Restaurants and hotels were open and operating, with a strict 10 p.m. curfew. They heard air raid sirens a few times but no explosions.
Face to Face — with assistance from nonprofits Razom, Heal the Children Northeast and INgenius — is arranging future medical mission trips to Ukraine.
Similar trips have been a part of Tatum’s career since he began his medical practice. “It just feels right. There are people that need help, and we have the ability to help. We have a lot here in this country, and I think we can share a little bit.”
This article appears in the spring 2023 issue of Upstate Health magazine.