Dr Len Friedland works in Vaccines at our Philadelphia site in the USA
I trained as a physician in emergency medicine, then worked in paediatric clinics in Cincinnati and Philadelphia in the USA. My growing interest in vaccines and understanding of the impact they can have on children’s lives led me directly to GSK in 2003.
As VP and Director for Scientific Affairs and Public Health in the Vaccines team, I translate the science of vaccines into benefits for patients of all ages, as well as doctors and policymakers, which gives me the chance to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Although I find my day job fulfilling, I still have a passion for caring directly for patients. When I first joined GSK, I continued working in a hospital. I later started volunteering with a San Francisco-based NGO (non-governmental organisation) called Rotaplast, which sends volunteer doctors around the world to help children and families affected by cleft lip, cleft palate, burn scarring and other deformities.
Helping children with facial deformities
A cleft is a gap in the lip or palate (roof of the mouth) that didn't close during the early stages of pregnancy. Worldwide, it’s estimated that a child is born with a cleft every three minutes - around one in 500-750 births.
Most children smile around 400 times a day. When a child is born with a facial deformity, their lives are dramatically affected. Children are stigmatised, often leading to them being hidden, shunned, cast out of society and in extreme cases killed.
Rotaplast sends medical teams to countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America to provide free reconstructive surgery, supporting treatment and training for how to care for these children. They also support education and research towards prevention of cleft lip and/or palate.
Using my medical skills to make a difference
So far, I’ve spent two weeks’ vacation each year in India and have been to Bangladesh and Venezuela twice, as part of a team that performs around 15 procedures a day and up to 125 over the two weeks. As a paediatrician, I’m responsible for the pre- and post-surgical care.
I’m also travelling to Guatemala City for a week with a group of health professionals from the Philadelphia area who are working with our local Rotary Club.
It will be an extra special visit for me. Not only will my wife be with me for the first time – as an accountant she is acting as our project manager and medical records keeper – but I’ll also be joined by David Prado, my colleague in Vaccines Scientific Affairs and Public Health in LATAM. He is also a paediatrician and lives in Guatemala City.
Why I volunteer
I believe that everyone on this planet should have a chance to succeed, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or economic situation. I’m conscious that, while I have a hospital or doctor readily available if ever I need one, there are plenty of people who don’t. I feel extremely lucky that my skills can help give some of these people the same chance as me of a life without pain, disfigurement and stigma.
I can't begin to explain how good this work makes me feel. I never stop smiling the whole time I'm working in a country, and the appreciation of the children and their families is positively life-affirming.
For me, the whole concept of volunteering, of giving back, is totally consistent with GSK’s values of trust and integrity. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to ‘reground’ yourself – it makes you realise how fortunate you are. I certainly come back more dedicated and more passionate about the development of vaccines after one of my trips, and I’m sure other volunteers feel the same.
Since its foundation in 1992, Rotaplast has organised more than 200 missions to help over 17,000 children in 26 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Approximately 100 children receive treatment during each mission (a mission lasts 6-8 days) depending on the number of operating rooms available.
Find out more about volunteering
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