In Bangladesh, once-beautiful young women couldn't even close their eyes because of chemically scarred eyelids. The skin on their faces was twisted, thickened, distorted.
Dr. Eileen Csontos grew up in a world where she was free to choose her life - her career as an anesthesiologist, whether to marry and have children.These women had been cruelly and deliberately burned, splashed with acid because they refused to go along with arranged marriages.
In Vietnam, Csontos got another shock: children who have grown up with cleft lips and cleft palates that had never been repaired, something so routinely done in the United States.
Since receiving her board certification as an anesthesiologist in 1990, Csontos has seen thousands of people - mostly children - with disfigurements that would be repaired without fuss in the United States. A volunteer with Interplast, a conglomeration of nurses, doctors and support personnel who donate their time and talents to travel to developing countries to provide reconstructive surgery at no cost, she's also been to Chili, Mexico, Laos. And she admits that she's hooked.
On a trip to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in January 1997, a documentary film crew went along to do a short piece about Interplast.
"They were pleasant," she said of the film crew, "but they were in my way. I just wanted to fix these kids."
The results of the documentary shocked everyone - including the people who filmed it. The 28-minute piece won the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. And now it's raising money for Interplast, to cover travel expenses so more doctors and nurses and staff can bring the gift of renewed self-confidence and healing to people who have been horribly scarred around the world.
The Salt Lake premiere of "A Story of Healing" and a reception will be held Saturday, July 11, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway. Tickets for the fund-raiser, being sponsored by Interplast, the Utah Film Commission and Utah Interplast president Dr. David S. Thomas, cost $50, part of which is tax-deductible. The showing will be followed by a question-and-answer session with some of the volunteer doctors and nurses from Utah.
Utah has "an enormous Interplast contingency," said Csontos, partly because of a strong volunteer ethic and partly because of a genuine love of children - including those in depressed countries who need help to lead normal lives.
Most of Interplast's work involves children, which is a delicate and scary proposition. "It's always stressful in an austere environment to be handling kids," Csontos said, referring to the delicacy required to regulate things like anesthesia in less-than-ideal environments. "All these kids are so normal, so like kids everywhere, but they have disfigurements."
The nonprofit group works closely with local physicians and medical personnel to arrange the surgeries.
The teams also use the time to provide tips and training to local doctors.