The boy from Wowetta: He wanted to be a farmer but is now Guyana’s first plastic surgeon

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By Richard Bhainie  

richard.bhanie@newsroom.gy

Growing up on a farm in the indigenous village of Wowetta in North Rupununi, a young Joseph Torres did not dream of becoming a medical doctor. Influenced by his environment, Torres desired to pursue farming on a large scale.

But all of that changed after one conversation and today he is Guyana’s first native plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon.

“I always believe that we think according to how we live; my parents were farmers, they planted peanuts and to be honest I wanted to be a big farmer.

“I wanted to be some large scale farmer – that was always my dream. I never wanted to be a farmer where I’m the one in the fields, I wanted to be the boss. I never thought of medicine,” Dr. Torres told the News Room during a recent interview.

Dr. Joseph Torres

Dr. Torres, now 41, described his childhood days as “very simple”. He attended the Wowetta Primary School which at the time was a “thatch-roof building with mud walls” and then the St. Ignatius Secondary School, some 100 miles away from his village of Wowetta, where he was exposed to a range of career opportunities.

There, he met a Dr. Sawh, who was the doctor-in-charge at Lethem.

“In 1998, we had a career conversation and he opened up my mind… and that was when I started to think of medicine.”

He eventually travelled to Georgetown for the first time – to attend the University of Guyana (UG). He began with an Associate Degree in Medical Technology, specialising in medical microbiology with a goal of eventually being able to further his studies to become a medical practitioner.

After graduating from UG in 2002, Torres worked in Georgetown, hoping for an opportunity to further his studies. During his attachment at the National Blood Bank, a colleague informed him of the Government of Guyana/Government of Cuba Scholarship programme. He applied.

“The first time I applied I was rejected. That was in 2002.

“But I persisted; I reapplied the next year and I was lucky I got through.”

He then went on a seven-year journey to read for an undergraduate degree in Human Medicine, graduating in 2010 as a general medical practitioner before returning to Guyana to serve.

His first placement as a medical doctor was at the Annai Health Centre, North Rupununi – something Dr. Torres said he was “very excited” about as he was “going home” and was ready to take health services in the region from “one point to another in a positive direction.”

He also served at the Lethem Regional Hospital and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

After working in the General Surgery ward at GHPC, in 2016, Dr. Torres went on to apply for a second scholarship – this time to China to pursue studies in general surgery. From China, he transitioned to Cuba to complete his specialization in plastic surgery and burns care, once again creating history – this time as Guyana’s first plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon.

Dr. Joseph Torres (center) flanked by his colleagues in Cuba

Synonymous with plastic surgery are the usual expensive body modifying procedures such as the tummy-tuck, Brazilian butt-lift or breast augmentation. However, Dr. Torres was not interested in pursuing plastic surgery for these procedures but he had much more noble reasons.

“What pushed me more to plastic surgery was when I was working in Annai where, during my outreaches, I discovered a number of kids in almost every community with some form of congenital malformation. I think plastic surgery can offer them something that they can develop at least the basic skills in their lives,” Dr. Torres said.

“A lot of people, if not most people, when they hear plastic surgeon they think about this guy can only do a breast lift, a tummy tuck, a breast augmentation. But plastic surgery is far more than that.

“We can do reconstruction of the scalp, reconstruction of the face, of the nose, of the lip, of basically any part of the body.”

Dr. Torres, who is still in Cuba, is excited to return to Guyana to be able to develop the “refined” field of surgery. He noted that health tourism is currently being touted and this requires the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery. He is also desirous of developing burn care in Guyana, a sector he foresees will require attention especially as Guyana develops the oil and gas sector.

Dr. Torres now encourages students in the hinterland regions of Guyana to use their access to the internet and information to research, get into contact with universities and look for opportunities.

“A child from the most remote area can become a lawyer, can become a doctor. They must use their opportunities, use the information to look for opportunities. Opportunities are there it’s for them to grab… and make good use of.”

Dr. Torres is grateful to everyone who contributed to his success, namely the Government of Guyana, his wife, Afiya, his mother, mother-in-law, friends, colleagues and specialists he worked with at GPHC.

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