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Santa Barbara Man Driven to Help the Helpless Suffering from Craniofacial Deformities

Real estate agent Rob Williams travels to Bangladesh to assist team doing reconstructive surgeries

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When Summerland real estate agent Rob Williams decided to go to Bangladesh to raise awareness and funding for children with cranial facial differences, the reason was personal.

Williams, who works for Village Properties in Montecito, has an 11-year-old son who just went through his ninth facial surgery. He's also experienced those struggles himself and has undergone numerous surgeries of his own.

He and his son, Robert, have Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by craniofacial deformities.

Williams' goal was to help raise funds for children and families affected with the disorder. So when he learned about the work of ReSurge International, a nonprofit organization that conducts reconstructive surgeries on those without access to medical care, he was in.

The organization works in 13 countries to treat children and adults with clefts, disabling burns, hand traumas and other disfigurements and injuries, Williams said.

ReSurge International has conducted 100,000 free reconstructive surgeries for the poor, who would have little to no access to health care otherwise.

One of Williams' real estate clients, Hilton Kaplan, a plastic surgeon who himself had adopted an infant with severe, disabling burns, told him about the group.

After hearing Williams' personal story, the Kaplan family invited him to accompany a team of doctors, nurses and support staff on a 10-day surgical and medical trip in October.

That journey took him to Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, a country that is one of the poorest — and most densely populated — countries on earth.

What he saw there was life-changing, Williams said.

"It was such an act of faith for these people" for them to come in for the surgeries, he said. "As far as what the doctors do for their children, it might as well be magic."

The patients who benefited from the surgeries brought with them moving stories.

One 16-year-old girl came by herself to the hospital, and could not even open her mouth because her facial burns were so severe. Other children came without use of their limbs or other body parts because they had been so badly burned.

Williams said it was common to see burn victims from rural areas, where fire is often used for cooking and heating.

"It was really amazing," he said.

Williams' son was excited about his dad's trip, and asked that he share pictures of him and his surgeries with the children coming into the hospital for treatment.

Williams said Robert was very much on his mind as he watched other children go through their medical ordeal.

Robert just successfully came thorough a complicated surgery in early October at Stanford University Medical Center before Williams left for Bangladesh. Although his son has access to some of the best medical care in the world, "it was still difficult for me," he said.

Children in developing countries would have almost no access to these types of corrective surgeries without groups like ReSurge, Williams said.

As the children's medical issues improve, they are able to return to school or allow their parents to return to work.

The trip also brought some surprises.

When the team arrived in Bangladesh, they encountered civil unrest and a government strike that had shut down the roads to most vehicles. As a result, Williams and his team had to be transported by ambulance to the hospital from where they were staying.

Intermittent power at the hospital was also a challenge.

But with the challenges, there were just as many rewards.

Williams described the faces of children at the hospital lighting up when he handed out stickers, and how a trip to a beach on the Bay of Bengal gave the visitors a magical glimpse at wild horses running on the sand.

After arriving at the hospital, Williams also discovered that the facility gets a third of its supplies from Goleta-based Direct Relief.

When asked how the trip changed him, Williams said he thinks "it's confirmed my belief that people are good in general."

"In real estate, you don't always see that," he said.

In January, Williams and his family will be leaving for six months to travel through Asia, and will be stopping in Cambodia and Thailand.

Williams is continuing to fundraise for the organization and its work and encourages others to support the cause, as well. Click here for more information on ReSurge International. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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