ROYAL OAK, Mich. - Imagine handing over your baby to a stranger to travel to a foreign country. To have surgery with a doctor you've never met. To live with a family you don't know.
It sounds unimaginable, but that's the decision the parents of five special children were forced to make in hopes of giving them a normal life. This is their incredible journey.
Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate moves from exam room to exam room, checking up on the progress of the "Beaumont Five."
The children have traveled from rural villages in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. They were all born with a cleft lip or cleft palate -- birth defects that couldn't be treated in their home country.
Chaiyasate performed their surgeries with dramatic results.
View previous stories about the Beaumont Five:
"Is she eating OK?" he asked one host mom.
"Do you have any more concerns?" he asked another.
It was a happy day. The children are all healing well.
He's known to his younger patients as "Doctor C." Creating smiles is just one of his many talents.
For patients facing devastating injuries or severe birth defects, nothing is more powerful than hope. That's just what Chaiyasate offers to his patients.
He grew up in Thailand. After earning his medical degree, he came to the United States for further training.
"I always want to help people. That's why I became a doctor," Chaiyasate said.
He specializes in craniofacial surgeries and cancer reconstruction.
"I was inspired by a few senior plastic surgeons who have done the same work that I am doing right now," Chaiyasate said.
He's also a father of four with a soft spot for kids.
"With the bullying, judgment among the kids, if you look different, you can be judged," Chaiyasate said.
He drew national attention when he took on the case of Charlotte Ponce, a teenager who was attacked by a raccoon as a baby. She suffered severe injuries.
Chaiyasate took cartilage from Ponce's ribs and essentially grew her a new ear. He also recreated a nose and lip for her.
It's just one of the many challenging cases he tackled that others said couldn't be done.
Chaiyasate first heard about Ray of Hope Medical Missions after treating one of their children.
"The kid did great, went home, and I saw the picture of the warm welcoming home, and was really touched by that," Chaiyasate said. "After that, I realized that I could do more, and I want to do more. So then we contact Ray of Hope and say, 'We would like to take a lot of children this year.'"
So far, he has operated on a dozen Ray of Hope children, with five or six more expected later this year. He's quick to credit the whole team.
"Thanks to Beaumont Hospital to allow me to do these operations. Thanks to my colleagues who donate their time, everyone from the nursing staff to the physician colleagues, the anesthesia team, allow us to do these operations with no cost," Chaiyasate said.
He's deeply moved by the situation faced these children face.
"In certain countries, the facial anomaly is a stigma or a curse, and that leads to execution of those children who look different. It's just heartbreaking to hear," Chaiyasate said.
With the Beaumont Five ready to go home, he's ready for more.
"I just feel great. At least I can save, essentially, five lives," Chaiyasate said. "I feel very grateful. I feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to do that and help them to restore that smile. Hopefully can bring their life back to what they deserve."
He said he'll think of these children often.
"Every day, I want to do more," Chaiyasate said. "It's the right thing to do."
To make more of these surgeries possible, donate to the Beaumont Craniofacial Fund by clicking here and going to "GIVE NOW." Change the "DESIGNATION" to "Other" in the dropdown menu and type "Craniofacial Fund" in the box.
"If we have more funding, we would be able to help a lot more children," Chaiyasate said.
To learn more about Ray of Hope Medical Missions or to make a donation, click here.
We will continue to follow the Beaumont Five as they prepare for their journeys back to Africa. How will they be received? What's it like for the host families who've cared for them for so long to have to say goodbye? We'll be there for that emotional farewell.
Here are some before-and-after photos:
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