Plastic surgeon creates smiles around world

By Erin Prather Stafford / September 2010

Dr. Sumeet Teotia describes his commitment to humanitarian work as food for the soul.

An assistant professor of plastic surgery at UT Southwestern, he began volunteering to assist others medically when he was a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Dr. Sumeet Teotia

During a plastic surgery fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Teotia was invited to become a charter mission plastic surgeon for Alliance for Smiles, a nonprofit organization that sends surgical teams around the world to perform cleft lip and palate surgeries.

Dr. Teotia found himself in Jiujiang City in the Chinese province of Xiangxi, where he operated on several children with facial cleft deformities over a two-week period in April 2005.

“Cleft lip and palate is a global health care problem,” he said. “Millions of children are untreated because they do not have access to corrective surgery, but I also treated a 62-year-old man who had been seeking treatment his entire life. He waited in line until every child had received care, and then approached us. After surgery he commented to me that he could ‘now die peacefully.’” 

Since his first venture to China, Dr. Teotia has fulfilled five mission trips with Alliance for Smiles. He has operated on hundreds of youngsters and has also taught local surgeons how to correct cleft lip and palate deformities and to provide continuing care. As part of its mission, Alliance for Smiles helps establish and maintain permanent centers that offer dental treatment, speech therapy, parental education and psychological counseling.

Because of his partnership with the organization, Dr. Teotia now has permanent visitation rights and has received numerous honors from Chinese organizations as well as having been recognized with an Alliance for Smiles Humanitarian Service Medal.

Dr. Teotia, who completed a surgical internship, general surgery residency and fellowship at the Mayo Clinics in Rochester, Minn., and Scottsdale, Ariz., was featured on the cover of Mayo Alumni magazine last year, with an accompanying article highlighting his humanitarian work.

He came to UT Southwestern in 2005 to complete a fellowship in aesthetic surgery and joined the medical center faculty in February 2009.

“These missions have taken me to the remote corners of the world,” said Dr. Teotia, who also takes time on campus to talk with anyone interested in becoming involved with Alliance for Smiles. “I’m hoping my next travels will be to Africa and South America.

“I am grateful for the support I get from my department chair, Dr. Rod Rohrich, to continue these surgical missions and from my practice partners, who value and understand my long-term commitment and desire to serve underserved patients across the world. I also thank my family, who has always supported my using vacation time for these missions,” Dr. Teotia said.

Dr. Rohrich said the young surgeon’s work is an example of UT Southwestern’s medical talent serving the greater good. “Dr. Teotia exemplifies ‘the best of the best’ in a physician who gives back selflessly to those in great need and those who are so much less fortunate in this world,” Dr. Rohrich said. “He’s a talented plastic surgeon, with a soft artistic caring touch, and he’s well-accepted wherever he goes in his surgical mission work. UT Southwestern is proud to have such physicians who are interested in global health care delivery.”

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Dr. Rohrich holds the Crystal Charity Ball Distinguished Chair in Plastic Surgery, and the Betty and Warren Woodward Chair in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.