As a world renowned plastic surgeon with a beautiful office in Beverly Hills and a home by the beach, it’s easy to think that this doctor happily goes about his day not thinking about the struggles of those living in third world countries. To the contrary, Dr. Fredric Corbin, says he would prefer to be traveling the globe performing charitable surgeries on indigenous people in the furthest and most isolated parts of the world, than shopping on Rodeo Drive.

Since the early days of medical school Dr. Corbin has given much of his time to treating others with needs far greater than what their pocketbook could afford. It began during his residency training in San Diego, CA where it was his job to travel to the clinics over the border in Mexico and drive patients back to the USA for medical teaching surgery cases.

“When I went down to Mexico in the 1970s the poverty level was far below what it is even today,” stated Dr. Corbin. “At the University we could offer levels of care and surgical expertise that these patients would never be able to receive in their home country. From that moment on I knew that a good deal of my future would be spent operating pro-bono both here in the USA and abroad.”

Over the years Dr. Corbin has traveled to Honduras, India and other countries working alongside medical teams such as Operation Smile where he has performed hundreds of surgeries on children and adults with traumatic deformities including cleft palate repair. He was honored by the Government of Ecuador with an act of bravery as he was the lone surgeon that went and performed pro-bono surgery during a time of strife and civil unrest, and he was selected to meet the Dalai Lama after a trip to India. A moment he says that will live forever in his mind.

Dr. Fredric Corbin meeting His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Dr. Fredric Corbin meeting His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

“Meeting the Dalai Lama presented itself after an exhaustive missionary trip to India,” recalled Dr. Corbin. “When meeting the Dalia Lama you address him as ‘His Holiness’ a term that is hard to imagine calling anyone until you actually meet him and then it’s clear. It’s what he is.”

Organizations such as Operation Smile, which was founded by a plastic surgeon, now offer hope worldwide to countless people who cannot afford or do not have access to health care to treat facial deformities. If Dr. Corbin were independently wealthy he says that he would spend all of his time traveling with Operation Smile, but for now must make do with scheduling a trip every few years.

“The patients are so grateful for anything you can do, and the people are amazing. You know that you are changing their lives,” he said. “In India I operated on a woman in her fifties that had an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. That would never occur in the USA. Doctors would have operated on her during the first year of life.”

According to Dr. Corbin, many of the older patients he meets on medical missions have been ostracized from their family as they are considered social outcasts. This is one of the reasons why parents line up for days with their children hoping for a chance of a surgery that will help them escape a life of misery.
“Many are embarrassed about their medical condition and have no financial means to remedy the problem,” stated Dr. Corbin. “Some leave their children to die, and others shun them at an early age. It’s a desperate situation for the child and the parent.”

Dr. Corbin’s very first surgical mission was to Ecuador. He was scheduled to travel with three other surgeons and a team of nurses and medical assistants. At the last minute he was informed that the other surgeons had dropped and was asked if he still wanted to go. Not knowing what was in store, Dr. Corbin agreed to go as the lone surgeon stating that he would do as much surgery as was possible. When they got to Ecuador the American ambassador assigned said that for Dr. Corbin’s protection and safety he was assigning a SEAL team to provide security as riots were going on. Apparently the rebels were using the media coverage of the US medical team’s efforts to further their own gain.

For Corbin, one of the downsides of this type of work is the fact that he can never fix all the problems. In India over six-hundred people waited in line outside the hospital to see the surgeons. Many had traveled on foot or by bus for hundreds of miles for the chance of seeing a doctor. Two gentlemen had walked for twelve hours just to make sure that this was the place that the missionary work was to take place. The same men returned a day-and-a-half later with a young boy in serious need of cleft palate surgery. Dr. Corbin was able to provide nothing short of a miracle for this boy but given his days in surgery, he barely made a dent in the number of children that needed help.

It was after this trip that Corbin, because of the virtuous nature of this mission was asked to come and meet the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj, Tibet. A meeting Dr. Corbin never expected and will never forget.

So what’s next for this traveling plastic surgeon?

In terms of missionary work, Dr. Corbin says that at the moment his plate is quite full with pro-bono cases among US born patients who have found themselves at the hands of un-reputable surgeons in other countries. One such patient was a Latino woman who had to have breast and buttock repair surgery to remove hard lumps of silicone that had been injected, had hardened and were infected. After treating her with antibiotics to reduce the infection, Dr. Corbin then had to meticulously remove the hardened silicone while attempting to preserve as much live tissue as possible. When asked how a patient, such as this lady, in the USA might pay him for this treatment if they don’t have insurance or cash, he just laughed and said, “in tamales of course!”

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