Born into poverty in Ghana, Dr. Michael K. Obeng’s amazing life story is a true source of inspiration. After fighting against all odds to become one of America’s top plastic surgeons, in 2008 he founded R.E.S.T.O.R.E., a non-profit organization which provides free reconstructive surgery to third world patients.
Obeng is one busy man, juggling a busy Beverly Hills plastic surgery practice with his humanitarian work. The former Chief of Plastic Surgery at St. Elizabeth Health Center – one of America’s most prestigious hospitals – is a recognized expert in complex reconstructive surgery, hand, and micro-neurovascular surgery. He is also among the rare few surgeons in the world to have successfully reattached a limb.
Through R.E.S.T.O.R.E., he provides free reconstructive surgery to abused and battered women and children, as well as people with congenital and accidental deformities.
“Growing up in Ghana, I witnessed disease, illness, and disfigurements be attributed to supernatural forces such as witchcraft,” says Obeng, who from an early age felt compelled to help those less fortunate. “Kids with deformities were ridiculed so much. Their parents would hide them because they would be made fun of.”
At the age of 15 he met medical professionals from Operation Smile, who helped a neighbor whose husband had thrown acid on her face by providing her with scar revision therapy.
“That, coupled with the premature death of my mother and grandmother due to complications of decubitus ulcer, propelled me to seek a career as a physician and a plastic surgeon, and ultimately inspired me to start this much needed philanthropic organization to educate and heal those in need.”
Obeng immigrated to the United States at the age of 20 with less than $200 in his possession, yet managed to successfully complete his medical and surgical training at Harvard University. Throughout this time, Obeng continued to find the strength he needed to overcome his obstacles.
“In my life, every step I have taken I have felt there was adversity, but I always remained true to myself and focused on my goals. Through perseverance and determination, I have been able to keep my eye on the prize. I accept that in my life I will experience mountains and valleys but when faced with a challenge, I find a solution to take me through it or around it. Either way I conquer it!”
While other organizations focus on reconstructing the cleft lip and pallet, R.E.S.T.O.R.E. performs a wider range of reconstructive procedures. “We perform surgeries on the whole body… head to toe. Our focus is also on training local staff to be self-sufficient. Plus, we advocate for the underprivileged, educating people about post-surgery options after breast cancer treatment,” Obeng explains.
“We live in a cruel world where people who aren’t as fortunate as you and I get attacked because of what they look like. To have that happen – when it’s something they don’t have control over – is a very sad thing. We can’t live in a world like that anymore, we must do something about it, which is why I am so focused on raising awareness and funding. We want to be able to reach more people and touch more hearts. After these surgeries, patients feel comfortable with who they are, and live more fulfilling lives. I’m happy to see how the procedures open the window of their souls in a whole new way.”
Obeng has a lot he wants to accomplish. “We have a new initiative called the Global Health Solution, which specializes in the delivery of 21st century, sustainable, high quality health care solutions to developing countries. Our mission is to bridge the gap between morbidity and healthy living, because a healthy country is a wealthy country. There is expert consulting for health-care facilities on equipment purchasing, medical supply needs, and patient care protocol and management.”
Most of these women would rather die of the disease than lose a husband or boyfriend who will never view them as ‘whole’ if they underwent a mastectomy without reconstruction.
After reading an article on breast cancer in Ghanaian women, which cited a mortality rate of 17-24%, Obeng also became involved in reconstructive breast procedures. “Most of these women would rather die of the disease than lose a husband or boyfriend who will never view them as ‘whole’ if they underwent a mastectomy without reconstruction. I performed the region’s first immediate breast reconstruction using abdominal tissue, following a mastectomy on a nurse who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year. She had refused to undergo a mastectomy without reconstruction because of the fear of losing her husband. While there, I taught two local plastic surgeons how to perform this operation.”
Back in Beverly Hills, it’s been very busy in Obeng’s private practice. “With two fully functioning operating rooms and a full surgical staff, we are prepared for a surge in patients. Our many patients request liposuction, Brazilian butt lifts and breast augmentations to look good during the summer months.”
But even with his services in high demand here, he continues his work with less fortunate patients abroad. Obeng has two more trips planned with R.E.S.T.O.R.E. this year: one to Mexico this month, and the other to his native country in October, where he will continue to give back to fellow Ghanaians.