Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
April 6, 2015
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photo and Program Coordinator: Jim Minkler
          Save the date: President-elect Lenore Romney reminds that Saturday, May 30, noon to 4 p.m., is Rotary Day at Riverfront Park.  All area clubs are invited to staff a table near the Rotary Fountain and share details of their programs and projects.  Let Lenore know if you can spare an hour to help staff our club’s table.
          Fund-raiser, cont.: Coordinator Jodi Harland asks members to continue to reach out for corporate sponsors for the club’s fund drive to support numerous projects at Holmes Elementary School.  Practicing what she preaches, Jodi said she already has secured $3,000 in sponsor pledges.  Total goal is $15,000 to $20,000.  Also, items still are needed for raffles, auctions and prizes, including dine out deals from area restaurants.
Saving smiles through surgery
          If there is a Spokane-area role model for Rotary International’s “service above self” motto, Dr. Frank Walchak would be the first choice of many.  Wife Carolyn would also share the spotlight.
          Frank Walchak, a 35-year practitioner at Spokane Plastic Surgeons, and a past president of the medical staff at Holy Family Hospital, has done 24 missions to 10 countries, mostly working with victims of cleft lip, cleft palate and burn victims.  A longtime Aurora Northwest Club member, he talked about his Rotaplast missions at the April 6 luncheon.  And on most of those missions, wife Carolyn served as head nurse.
          “In the United States, most victims of cleft lip or cleft palate have surgeries by age 1 or 2,” Walchak said.  In the Rotaplast mission countries, he adds, “many young victims are joined by young adults or even people up to 50 years old.”
          The facial deformities, often noticed in areas with high rates of malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, occur when the two plates of the skull don’t quite form together, Walchak said.  Many of the victims are abandoned at birth and shunned by their local communities for appearance reasons alone, and the victims’ inability to speak clearly.  Often they face lives of menial labor and little social contact.
          Walchak shared a video of a 2011 Rotaplast mission sponsored by District 5060 in central Washington to the Udaipur District of Rajasthan state in northern India.  The town of Udaipur is a city of 500,000 in a region dominated by the harsh dry climate of the Thar desert.
          He said many of the Rotaplast (the name combines Rotary and plastic surgery) patients are named  “Meena,”  denoting status of the lowest caste, once called “Untouchables.”  The video featured Asha Meena, 18.  The young lady’s “name means hope,” Walchak said, and that’s a side benefit  of  the reconstructive surgical procedures.
          The cleft-lip procedures take about 90 minutes, Walchak said, adding that the medical staffs, dentists and other volunteers typically work 14-16 hours a day while on mission for one to two weeks, operating on 100-120 patients.
          The “gap in the lip” deformity, he said, “is an ailment thousands of years old.”  Among the more notable victims were King Tut, Tad Lincoln (Abe’s youngest son), Doc Holiday, and, more recently, actors Stacy Keach and Cheech Marin.
          Causes of cleft deformities, Walchak said, include genetic abnormalities, lack of folic acid, and maternal drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse.   The maladies occur in one in 700 births worldwide, he said.
          Rotaplast was founded by a San Francisco Rotarian in 1992.  The program treats about 1,400 patients, mostly children, annually in 12 missions.  Volunteer Rotarians pair with local Rotary clubs in affected areas.  With donated supplies and volunteers who often pay their own airfares, the cost of each procedure is about $1,000.  Such surgeries in the U.S. typically cost up to $100,000, Walchak said.
          Walchak, now mostly retired, still works part time at the Spokane Shrine Hospital.  A Rotaplast mission to Ethiopia has been delayed, but he looks forward to an upcoming medical mission to the Philippines, where he has visited several times before.
          The Rotaplast motto is “saving smiles, changing lives.”  As Walchak attests, that works for the volunteers as well as the patients.