Jesse Dominguez, MD, remembers the first day he met plastic surgeon Angelo Capozzi.
He’d just started as an anesthesiologist at NorthBay Medical Center in 1995 when Capozzi started ordering him around. He thought he was intimidating and pushy, Dr. Dominguez recalls with a chuckle.
It wasn’t until much later he learned that behind a brash exterior, Dr. Capozzi was the kind of man who would fly around the world to make life better for a child he’d never met.
Dr. Capozzi was involved with a group called Interplast, which for years had been sending medical professionals on global missions to perform surgeries on children with cleft lips and palates and other deformities whose families could
not afford surgery.
Dr. Capozzi thought Rotary could handle logistics more efficiently, and so he worked with his Rotary Club of San Francisco to create “Rotaplast.”
Over and over, Dr. Capozzi hounded Dr. Dominguez to come along.
“For three years, he told me I had to go with him. Finally, in August 1998, I said, ‘OK, I’ll come on a trip with you if you’ll stop bugging me.’”
They went to Argentina, and life has never the same for Dr. Dominguez.
“It was a very emotional trip for me, and I still can’t figure out to this day why. I realized I needed to do something more than be a paid physician. There’s something bigger out there. I knew it all along, but this helped set me on fire again.”
He started doing trips with Dr. Capozzi and eventually they visited Mexico, Guatamala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay.
“He thought I should become a member of the Rotaplast board, become
a logistics guy,” recalls Dr. Dominguez.
And so he did. And then the vision grew. Suddenly, they were planning trips to China, Vietnam, and beyond.
“It got to be a very big organization. I was making three trips a year, working at NorthBay and trying to raise a young family.”
It cost him his marriage, he says, and left him a single father with two young girls.
He had to refocus, deciding to concentrate on Guatemala and Venezuela. He throttled back to two trips a year, and eventually took a two-year break.
When he picked up again, the organization had a different structure. Instead of dropping in all around the world, he and a team of surgeons, nurses and other volunteers decided to concentrate their mission in just one rural community near
Rotary embraced the concept, and “Faces of Hope” was born.
Dr. Dominguez and the team trained others from around the world and from Guatemala to care for the indigenous people.
“I remember someone really wanted to say thank you to me once, and tracked me down. I said, ‘No, I thank you.’ It’s a symbiotic thing,” he explains.
“Now I need to pass it on. I need to help an organization grow, get other people into it.”
And Dr. Dominguez has done just that.
He’s recruited a number of people, including many staff members from NorthBay, to participate.
One physician – John Lee – planned to sail away after he retired, but
Dr. Dominguez talked him into just one mission.
“I told him, if you don’t go, there’s a lot of kids who won’t get work done. He said, ‘Fine, but don’t ever ask me again.’”
Dr. Lee made five more trips before joining the Peace Corps. Now he’s in Fiji building plumbing systems.
Dr. Dominguez remembers another former NorthBay surgeon, Debbie Chong, who created her own program, “Medicine in Action.” Her group performs medical missions to help women in Jamaica and Tanzania, and Dr. Dominguez has even gone along on some of her missions.
Faces of Hope has created scholarships and programs for nursing and medical students to come along and learn.
“We realized that the next generation of people who do this work need to learn early.”
He even got his family involved.
His oldest daughter, Terren, 18, has made four trips with the group, and it has inspired her to pursue a career in nursing. She’ll begin her studies at the University of Portland in the fall.
His youngest daughter, Mara, 12, is too young to go on missions yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time, as it seems to run in the family. Dr. Dominguez remarried four years ago, and his wife, Dale, a nurse at Methodist Hospital in Sacramento, also has been involved in a number of medical missions, traveling to China and other parts of Asia.