PIEDMONT -- In 1990, Laura Escobosa volunteered to help a small team of doctors arrange a humanitarian mission to Guatemala and to serve as their translator. She watched as the orthopedic surgeons performed simple congenital, cleft palate and hip dysplasia surgeries under very primitive conditions on a number of children and strongly felt the impact that one surgery could have on the life of a child and a family.
That simple offer became a lifetime commitment with Escobosa serving as director of Operation Rainbow, coordinating teams of doctors and medical staff on missions all over the world from a small office in her Piedmont home.
Last month, Escobosa was recognized for her work in coordinating Operation Rainbow's humanitarian missions and for her part in changing the lives of children by receiving the Jefferson Award, an award that recognizes the work of ordinary citizens who make a difference without expectations or rewards for themselves.
For the past 23 years, Escobosa has seen to the logistics of organizing teams of 30 volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and technicians, along with all their own equipment and the medicines and supplies needed for a week-long trip where they will see hundreds of patients and perform dozens of surgeries. At first, there were two missions a year, now there are 12.
Without a medical degree, she has coped with last-minute problems, such as cancelled flights, team illness, power and water outages and frequent government changes leading to changes in bureaucracy.
"Every mission has a snag and to this day we have never repeated one," Escobosa said. "We can't learn from the previous because something new just comes out of the blue."
Even after more than 100 missions, the need for Operation Rainbow has not diminished. Hospitals are better equipped and often have their own orthopedic staff, allowing Operation Rainbow surgeons to perform more complex surgeries and use them as training tools. The problem comes from the supplies needed for orthopedic surgery, namely the plates, rods and screws used to repair damaged bones; supplies that the patient must provide.
"One hospital in Honduras has no supplies at all so any patient that goes into surgery has to show up with everything needed for that particular surgery," Escobosa said. "With orthopedic surgery, that's at least $200. The poor cannot afford it."
The need and the life-changing impact of the surgeries Operation Rainbow performs and the people are what have kept Escobosa committed.
"Really the biggest thing for me is that I'm working with a group of people who are top-notch human beings," she said. "It's very uplifting to be with people who want to do this sort of thing, who are good at what they do and have the self-confidence and courage to work under difficult conditions."
The Jefferson Award comes at a time when Operation Rainbow's shoestring budget could benefit from corporate or foundation help.
Even with minimum overhead and Escobosa volunteering her services, a typical mission runs between $20,000 and $35,000.
"This award is important to me because it is a prestigious award and it highlights the work we do," Escobosa said. "It's a recognition of something we've done for so many years without drawing attention to ourselves."
Well, the word is out and the Jefferson Award to Laura Escobosa for her years of service puts Operation Rainbow's work back in the limelight. Orthopedic procedures that offer life-changing impact for children all over the world.
As Escobosa said, "It's a fairly simple story."
For more information on Operation Rainbow, a nonprofit organization, or to make a donation, visit www.operationrainbow.org.