Zeb Ratcliff was born 20 months ago with a “skin tag” on his neck, something his parents learned could be surgically repaired
for around $5,000. Unfortunately, Zeb was enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, where the surgery is considered a low priority –
and not covered.
The family couldn’t afford to pay for it.
Zeb’s mother, Donna Ratcliff of Eagle Point, learned that Dr. Bob Jensen, a Medford plastic surgeon, donates about one case of
free surgery a month to Rogue Valley residents who can’t pay.
“I was scared something major was’ wrong. I didn’t know how we’d pay for it, then I heard about him through my pediatrician,”
Donna Ratcliff said, as Jensen did a follow-up exam on her son. “I don’t have words to explain how thankful we are.”
Zeb, a “carefree, happy guy,” in the words of his mother, was out of surgery in about 35 minutes – a little thing for the doctor,
but huge for the family. The procedure repaired what physicians call a branchial cleft remnant that, if left untreated, could have
become infected, Jensen said.
Jensen has been donating surgeries for years on the Pacific island of Palau as part of his “Operation Restore.” He said he decided
to do something to help people in 2001 when he was in Guatemla, where he saw many faces ruined by cleft lips and speech patterns
distorted by cleft palates.
Jensen said he was moved by one man in particular, who spent his life with a scarf over his face to cover his deformed lip.
Jensen and a small group of doctors and nurses in Medford have been making annual twoweek service trips to the island nation for
seven years. He’s been joined by anesthesiologists Daniel Kahn and Magda Ciurlik, and his nurses, Amy Davis and Courtney Lee.
They perform 20 to 40 surgeries on congenital deformities, burns, breasts and cleft palates or lips.
“They don’t have a lot of money there and they recently have lost a lot of grant money from the U.S.,” Jensen said. “Our work is
very, very appreciated. A lot of patients are surprised and in tears, because they had no other option.”
Jensen said the need for reconstructive surgery is overwhelming in the developing world.
“There are a million people in India with cleft lips and palates. We’re seeing a huge need out there,” he said.
It seems ironic that many people suffer cleft lips or palates all their lives, yet it takes only a half hour to repair the deformity,
The work in Palau isn’t financially rewarding, but it’s not without perks. Team members work all week long, then relax in the tropical
climate and go diving on weekends.
In the Rogue Valley, Jensen gets referrals for his pro bono work from doctors, social-service agencies, the Community Health Center
and La Clinica. Prospective patients are screened to find people with little or no insurance.