Volunteer surgeon in operating theatre

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Mikko Larsen remembers, at the age of 12, being inspired to follow his career path after watching a Dutch documentary about a program in Indonesia to repair cleft lips, cleft palates and burn contractures.

“It was a seminal moment and caught my attention,” Mikko said.  “I had no idea surgery could correct such serious issues in people.”

“That interest stayed with me and I went into studying medicine focused on becoming a plastic surgeon.”

Three years ago, Mikko attended an Interplast event hosted by Avant and this reignited his interest in volunteering. This and other connections led to Mikko going on an Interplast surgical training program to Suva, Fiji this year.  Mikko’s component of the program focused on demonstrating and teaching skin flap surgery to surgeons from across the Pacific region.

A skin flap is like a skin graft in the sense that tissue is transplanted. The big difference is that a flap has its own blood supply. With a flap, larger amounts of tissue can be used, including muscle if needed. The surgical technique to harvest and to move this tissue is complex. The surgeon must harvest not only the block of tissue to be moved, but also the blood vessels (arteries and veins) that feed the tissue block. Compared to a graft, a flap requires more planning and more surgical skill. 

The most common clinical reasons for performing flap surgery are extensive trauma, chronic wounds, severe burns, areas of prior infection and reconstructive surgery following major surgery for cancer.

Unfortunately, there was a serious bus accident in Fiji a week before the Interplast team arrived in Suva.  This event provided the team with a number of patients who needed flap surgery.

“These were perfect cases to show how flaps can be used in practice,” Mikko said.

“We got the training participants to do most of the procedures in the operating theatre, with our guidance.

“The surgeons were adaptable and innovative – they don’t appreciate how good they are.”

The Interplast volunteer team, training participants and local partners operated on cancer, and head and neck cases plus the trauma cases.

“We had some pre-prepared presentations, but the teaching was based on the cases we were treating as a team.”

Mikko said that the main outcome was a small group of surgeons with increased skills and confidence.

“It was really rewarding to be able to give the surgeons the knowledge they needed in order to perform new procedures.”

The best part of the program for Mikko was the thankfulness of the patients and the training participants.

“The knowledge transfer was a clear highlight – knowing that we were able to make a difference.”

“The whole program was a fantastic experience,” said Mikko. “Everything was organised so seamlessly all the way through by the Interplast team in Melbourne.”

This Interplast surgical training program to Fiji was supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Photo credit: Dave Groves Photography.