DR. DIEGO STEINBERG’S PERSONAL JOURNEY TOWARD TRANSFORMING CHILDREN’S LIVES
In 2004, I was very lucky to receive the ASMS/PSEF International Scholarship funded by the World Craniofacial Foundation, and I traveled to Dallas for the first time certain that I was in store for a life-changing experience. I spent an amazing four months with Dr. Salyer and his dedicated team, a time during which I was also very fortunate to encounter Dr. Raul Barceló—also a former WorldCF fellow and then a colleague of Dr. Salyer at the International Craniofacial Institute in Dallas. Dr. Barceló adopted me as part of his family and helped me enormously in reaching my goals.
Once back home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I began performing my first cleft lip and palate cases as a junior plastic surgeon at the San Isidro Children’s County Hospital and began to focus on passing the U.S. medical exams that would allow me to return to Dallas for a craniofacial clinical fellowship funded by the World Craniofacial Foundation—something I had dreamed of for many years.
I’m now head of the pediatric plastic surgery service at the San Isidro Children’s Hospital. Along the way, Dr. Salyer has inspired me with his passion for helping kids regardless of their social or economic status. With his mentorship, some years ago I began undertaking surgical mission trips for both Operation Smile and the World Craniofacial Foundation and I always look forward for the next one.
In 2018, Dr. Salyer invited me to become the foundation’s first medical administrator—an opportunity at which I immediately jumped. It was a huge honor to receive the chance to help children get the treatment they deserve at the same time I’m doing the work I truly love. Dr. Salyer will one day leave the foundation in excellent hands, both medically and administratively—this I know—and we will continue to transform children’s faces and renew their lives for many years to come.
FOR MEDICAL DIRECTOR DR. DAVID CHONG, HELPING KIDS IS A SPIRITUAL CALLING
I had become a plastic surgeon in 2002. I wasn’t one of those people who always knew I wanted to do surgery. In fact, I was pretty sure I would not be good at it. I wasn’t skilled at art when I was young. I couldn’t put together airplane models like my friends could. I lacked the patience and finesse, and the glue never went where I wanted it to. But what a remarkable experience it was the first time I saw a cleft surgeon wrestle with facial deformity. I was mesmerized by the skilled, purposeful movements of this hands around a baby’s face. The finale was emotional, as the lifelong repercussions of the ninety minutes I had witnessed swept over me. I wanted to be a cleft surgeon.
The year I finished training, my stepfather, also a plastic surgeon and a wonderful example of a life well lived, happened to be retiring. He generously handed me his practice. I was instantly busy and earning a very healthy income. Financially, this fork in the road was enticing. I would be set for life. However, I knew I had a deeper call.
In 2004, I was prompted to leave my private practice to follow this calling. It meant an instant ninety-percent reduction in pay. And it meant exchanging my independence for working again for somebody else. I did not hesitate. I gave away my practice, moved from my home country of Australia, and spent a year with Dr. Salyer in Dallas.
It was a time when I had no doubt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The year changed me and charged me with a sense of destiny and responsibility to my calling. You know that moment that you decide why God has put you on this earth.
Beyond the technical skills he graciously taught me, Dr. Salyer infused in me a deep sense of confidence that I could be a great surgeon and do much good in this world. I felt him pass on the devotion to the care of patients affected by facial deformity and the power of changing a face to escape the judgements that lie within the dark side of all of us. I caught the bug.
I find myself just short of fifty now. How the years have marched on, not once listening to my pleas to slow down. Indeed, the momentum cruelly seems to be quickening. Living life well seems ever more important. And for all I have been blessed with, I ask myself how much more I am willing to give. I am thankful to have such a great gift to change lives and increasingly want to use it where people have little access to surgery. I devote three months a year now restoring hope and bringing healing in places where the need is enormous. I know what it means to experience the excitement of following a dharma. And I want to live as a worthy response to this miraculous mystery we call life.
DR. AKIRA YAMADA ON HIS DETERMINATION TO FIND DR. SALYER’S SECRET
When I read at home in Japan a special volume of the Scandinavian Journal of Plastic Surgery, featuring an article on the transformation of young faces by Kenneth Salyer, M.D., I thought it would be extraordinary to learn craniofacial surgery from a superstar like Dr. Salyer, but I had no connection him or to the USA at all.
Miraculously, and with help from my ear reconstruction teacher, Dr. Satoru Nagata, I met Dr. Salyer for the first time at a craniofacial meeting in the Philippines in 1996.
When I saw Dr. Salyer again 1999 at a meeting of the Japanese Society of Oral-maxillofacial Surgery in Tokyo, he told me he was ready to accept me as a clinical craniofacial fellow. My dream had come true, and I spent next the next eighteen months in Dallas, trying to figure out how Dr. Salyer performs reconstructive surgery so magically as I watched and assisted in over a hundred intracranial vault remodeling surgeries.
I spent the following decade in Japan as an attending plastic surgeon, applying the techniques I had learned from Dr. Salyer to my Japanese patients. Whenever I had a particularly challenging case, I asked him for his wisdom, whether by email, phone call, or via virtual surgical planning. Today—and again, only with Dr. Salyer’s support—I am a full professor of craniofacial surgery at the Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, and I remain a WorldCF medical director. After twenty years, I still cannot explain the secret to Dr. Salyer’s magical skills as a cleft and craniofacial surgeon. However, I keep learning from him every day. And I think the best explanation I or anyone else is ever likely to find is that Dr. Salyer’s skill is simply a very special gift, one he has chosen to share around the world.