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Offering life-changing surgery

Bayville doctor prepares for 25th medical mission

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Although Dr. Edwin Moreano, 51, of Bayville, moved from Ecuador to Queens when he was 8 years old, he frequently visited his hometown of Guayaquil in the years afterward. During those visits, Moreano met children suffering with facial deformities and the social stigma that came with them. When he learned that those deformities were easily treated in the U.S., Moreano pursued a career in medicine and began a lifelong mission to help others.

Moreano graduated from SUNY Stony Brook’s School of Medicine in 1992, and did his residency at the University of Iowa in 1997. Afterward he completed a fellowship at the McCollough Aesthetic Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala., before settling in at NYU Winthrop Hospital.

In 1999, Moreano began planning regular trips to Ecuador and other Latin American countries, and established the Moreano World Medical Mission, a nonprofit organization that offers plastic surgery to children who do not have access to it. This year Moreano is planning his 25th mission trip: He and a team of volunteer medical professionals will travel to Macas, Ecuador, on Feb. 15 for a week of cleft palate surgeries.

He held a special fundraiser at the Mill Creek Tavern in Bayville on Feb. 1 to promote the mission. “We want the people of Bayville to know about this opportunity to help others,” Moreano said. “Kids with cleft palate get ostracized. With this surgery, they can experience a life they never had before.”

On the week-long missions, Moreano and nearly 40 other volunteers try to evaluate as many as 300 children in the cities and villages they visit. He and other plastic surgeons, assisted by anesthesiologists and nurses, undertake more than 90 surgeries each year. Many of the places they visit have only one or two operating rooms available at the nearest hospital, he explained, so the team sets up temporary rooms to treat as many kids as possible. Even so, Moreano often hears stories about children who walk for two days to try to make it to surgery, only to miss him on the final day.

Bureaucracy and fundraising are two of his biggest challenges. It takes months of planning, he said, to travel with a full team and medical supplies, so he settled on doing one mission a year. The trips usually cost about $30,000, so Moreano depends on local fundraisers, which normally raise about half that amount.

Gene Pileggi, 79, who also lives in Bayville and has known Moreano for nearly a decade, said he was more than happy to donate to his cause. “It’s important to support one of our own with this important mission,” Pileggi said. “These kids with deformities are often rejected by their towns and villages, who see them as cursed or marked by the devil. Dr. Moreano is giving them another chance at life.”

“We are so proud of Dr. Moreano and his wife, [Natalia], for the charitable work they do to help the less fortunate children in the world who are in need of medical assistance,” Bayville Mayor Robert De Natale said. “Bayville is blessed to have such wonderful, caring and generous residents.”

The least difficult part of the missions, Moreano said, is recruiting medical volunteers, because many are people he’s known throughout his career. As he moved around the country, Moreano stayed connected with former colleagues, and when he reached out to them about joining him on his missions, he found they were more than willing to help.

“It really is amazing how many doctors in the U.S. volunteer to help around the world,” he said. 

At last Saturday’s fundraiser, Moreano got a surprise show of support from the newly formed Comite Civico Argentino, or Argentine Civic Committee, whose president, Lia Di Angelo, of Glen Cove, presented him with a $1,100 check donation, which she raised through her organization’s first fundraising gala in December. Di Angelo, a longtime supporter of Moreano’s work, also helped present certificates of recognition to Moreano from U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton.

“When I started my committee, I knew that my fundraisers would go to help your cause,” Di Angelo said as she handed Moreano the check. “You’re truly doing God’s work on Earth.”