Every other year Dr. Robert Wilke takes his own time and resources to head south where he takes part in truly life-changing experiences. This year, he will soon be leaving for Peru, one of two teams who head there to perform cleft lip and pallet surgeries for children.
Dr. Wilke recalls hearing about this program while he studied at the U of W. It has been around for many years, his group originally starting with Dr. Frank Pilney. It has since then grown to an entire team consisting of 2-3 surgeons, an anesthesiologist, nurses, and pediatricians. Cleft surgeries are a technically difficult surgery but require no complex equipment making it easier to help in underdeveloped areas.
Before arriving, there is a list gathered of children who need surgeries. Upon arrival, they take the first day or two to screen the kids and put them into a priority order. This will help them best schedule their time while they are there. Each surgeon handles about five surgeries a day for the entire week they are there. Once they leave, a second team arrives the next week.
It all started during his training at the U of W where he found his passion for volunteering on these trips to South America providing care to the children. He remembers a time in high school, even before college, watching an episode of 60 Minutes and hearing about Dr. Dave Dibbell and his purpose behind these mission trips. Dr. Dibell originally started the training program at the U of W and really fostered it into what it is today. When he got into the practice at Edina Plastic Surgery Dr. Pilney, the head doctor at that time, had carried this over to the practice with him and that is how Dr. Wilke began joining him on these trips.
During his career, Dr. Wilke has been on about 10 of these trips. His first trip was to Ecuador, then in Peru near Lima in a smaller city in the mountains by Lake Titicaca, and now is traveling to Arequipa Peru. For everyone who takes part in these trips, it is really about making a difference and giving back. They each pay their own way, and everyone rolls up their sleeves to get the work done. They are all local doctors and nurses who work in the area, but who come together to help make a difference.
It means a lot to Dr. Wilke to be able to provide good for the people and children, and it is a privilege to be able to have a job that gives him the opportunities to make such a positive impact.
Stay tuned for updates from Dr. Wilke while he is on his trip!