Dr. Thomas Vecchione Featured In The San Diego Union Tribune 0

Doctor fixes faces, mends lives

Scripps Mercy outreach team brings surgical skills to Mexico

Dr. Thomas Vecchione is part of the Mercy Outreach Surgical Team, which provides free reconstructive surgery to needy children in Mexico. — K.C. Alfred


Dr. Thomas Vecchione has been practicing medicine since 1974. He is on the staff of Scripps Mercy Hospital and has a private plastic-surgery practice where he performs everything from tummy tucks to hand-trauma surgery.

The list of the procedures he can do, the places he has worked and the boards he serves on is long and impressive, but the explanation for why he travels to Mexico to fix cleft lips and palates for free is short and simple.

“It’s the best thing I do with my life,” Vecchione, 71, said. “This is the one thing I enjoy the most.”

Vecchione is a founding member of the Mercy Outreach Surgical Team, which has provided free reconstructive surgeries for Mexico’s neediest children since 1987. Between the programs in Tijuana and Central Mexico, the M.O.S.T. teams have made 65 outreach trips. Vecchione has been on 52 of them.

During the Mexico treks, a 45- to 50-member team of plastic surgeons, general surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and other medical personnel correct cleft lips and palates, fix missing ears and crossed eyes, and even operate to remove extra fingers and toes.

All team-members volunteer their time and usually cover a portion of their expenses. To help pay for the costs of supplies, medications and some travel, the organization is holding its annual “M.O.S.T. Mariachi Festival” fundraiser on Saturday at the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center in Fairmont Village.

Fixing a cleft palate can take 2½ to 3 hours, while removing an extra digit can be done in 20 to 30 minutes. But there is no time limit on the results, which is just one of the reasons Vecchione is in this for the long haul.

“When you see a 12-year-old girl with a wide-open cleft lip, that shouldn’t be that way,” Vecchione said during an interview at the Scripps Mercy Surgery Pavilion in Hillcrest. “And if you don’t fix it, she could spend the rest of her life hiding in a backroom somewhere. If we can fix it, we need to do that.”

The volunteer-driven organization was started by Pat Robinson and Judy Hames. The two Mercy Hospital nurses had been volunteering with surgical teams in Mexico and wanted to bring their colleagues into the feel-good fold.

Having spent time performing free surgeries in Calexico with a group from UC San Diego, Vecchione was an easy sell, as were fellow longtime M.O.S.T. doctors Lawrence McCarthy (also a plastic surgeon) and anesthesiologist Doug Arbon, both of whom are still M.O.S.T. regulars.

The Mexico program kicked off in the spring of 1989, and teams have made it down at least once a year ever since. The men and women of M.O.S.T. have conducted more than 7,000 surgeries in Central Mexico, along with more than 3,000 procedures at the Hospital Ingles in Tijuana and at Mercy Hospital itself. When the team goes to the town of Irapuato next month, Vecchione will be going with them.

“It just feels so good to do it. When you get a smile from one child or one mother, it’s worth it. It’s better than money. We all feel that way. That’s why we keep going back.”

One of the more memorable smiles belongs to Adriana Robles. In 1993, Robles was brought to a M.O.S.T. program in Zacatecas, where Vecchione operated on her cleft lip. The team brought her to Mercy Hospital a few months later so he could fix her cleft palate. Later, Robles and her mother immigrated to the U.S. to join Robles’ father, and when she turned 13, Vecchione fixed her nose.

Now, Robles is a 22-year-old Mira Costa College student who is hoping to be a nurse. The career is no coincidence.

“I see Dr. Vecchione as a doctor, but I also see him as a role model,” said Robles, who lives in Vista and is still in touch. “He makes so many life-changing opportunities for so many people, and that is something I hope I can do in the future as well. My story is just a little glimpse of what these doctors do, and if I can be just a little piece of that, it would be amazing.”

For Vecchione, the most wonderful thing about Robles’ story is that it is has such a familiar ring to it. It is the story of M.O.S.T., and he never gets tired of hearing it.

“So many of these kids, they’re in school and they’re studying different things, and it is so great to see that,” Vecchione said. “Other kids can be cruel when they see something they don’t understand, so the best thing we do is put them on a more even playing field. They are growing up poor, so they are already at the end of the line, so if you can help them, it makes a huge difference.”

San Diego Union Tribune 

The Sugar Addiction Epidemic 0


There is a major addiction problem occurring throughout the world, and specifically our country. It isn’t drugs, though it can be equally addictive. It isn’t alcohol, though it can be equally as dangerous. This addiction often goes unspoken… but deserves quite a bit of attention. We are talking about sugar addiction!

Americans consume 130 lbs of sugar each and every year… no, not as a whole, but on an individual basis. This is comparable to 17 cans of soda every 5 days, or 15 gallons of soda each year. That is enough sugar to fill an entire dumpster per person, per year.

In the average American’s diet, sugar comprises 500 calories each day. The scariest part is that these numbers are rising each year. Sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, hypertension, depression, fatigue, diabetes, headaches, acne, and anxiety.

Why is sugar such an issue? Consuming sugar sends “feel good” hormones to the brain, much like many drugs, making this a very addictive substance. Unlike many drugs, it can be difficult to go “cold turkey”. Though sugar is not something we have to consume on a daily basis, it can be hard to avoid. It’s not only found in soda, candy, and sweets, but can be hiding in a variety of foods in a variety of forms.

Many people reach for sugar when they are in a slump, either an energy slump or an emotional slump. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning it gives you an almost immediate “rush” which is shortly followed by a crash. This often leads to a sugar binge to sustain the wanted energy. So what’s a better option? Opt for complex carbs, they are more slowly digested by the body leading to a more even and long lasting effect.

You do not need to completely cut sugar from your diet, though some studies show that a sugar detox can be extremely helpful to retrain your brain, and your taste buds to not crave sugar. If you are craving something sweet, reach for sugar in it’s natural form… such as fruit. We should be consuming no more than 9.5 teaspoons per day. Though it is not necessary to drive yourself crazy counting calories and sugar grams, you will more than likely find it beneficial to cut back. Your body (and your skin) will thank you!

Beauty Benefits of Retinoids 0


Retinoids… chances are you’ve heard of them, but do you really know what they do and how they can benefit your skin?

Retinoids are a derivative of Vitamin A. They act to unclog pores, speed cell turnover, even out skin’s tone and texture, and boost collagen which in turn can reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Overall, retinoids improve overall skin appearance.

It is best to apply retinoid treatments at night, before you go to bed. This allows the product adequate time to set into the skin and get to work before other products and environmental elements have the chance to interfere. Sun exposure does not need to be avoided, however, it is recommended that you regularly apply SPF 30 while on retinoid treatments (and daily for that matter) as retinoids can dry out the skin. We love SkinMedica’s Daily Physical Defense SPF 30+.

Retinoids can dry out the skin, causing redness and in some case flakiness. This can often times be avoided if you ease into the product. Just remember… a little goes a long way. A pea-sized drop is enough to cover the whole face. Start by applying retinoids a few times a week or every other night, giving your skin time to adjust. If it seems to be well tolerated, you can increase this to every night.

Retinoid is available both over the counter or by prescription. Though both are effective, results are typically seen as early as 4 weeks with prescription products and typically around 12 weeks with over the counter products. We love SkinMedica’s Tri-Retinol Complex.


Please do not use retinoid products if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not use in conjunction with other drying products such as Benzoyl peroxide. If you plan to have any facial waxing procedures done, such as eyebrow waxing, please discontinue use of retinoids 3 days before your treatment and let your aesthitician know that you are using a retinoid treatment. If your skin does not tolerate retinoids, please discontinue use.

The Holiday Stress Cycle 0


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and for many, the most stressful as well. The social, financial, and physical stressors that often accompany the holiday season can wreak havoc on your health.

Between the shopping, baking, entertaining, and traveling among many other demands, it’s no wonder people feel overwhelmed. The holiday stress cycle can be, well, stressful!


Here are some tips to help you avoid the stress and enjoy the season!

Make time for yourself: The holidays are all about spreading joy to others, but don’t forget about yourself. Take a little time every day to do something special for YOU! Relax, meditate, practice yoga, go for a walk, have a cup of tea… do something that makes you happy. This will help you to better handle the holiday stress.

Put health first: Don’t abandon healthy habits! Make sure to eat right, stay active, and get plenty of sleep. When you feel well you will be more productive, therefor less stressed.

Just say NO: We live in a yes society, but sometimes you have to say no. Be realistic. You cannot be in twelve places doing twenty things at once. Try not to overextend yourself to avoid unnecessary stress.

Delegate, delegate, delegate: Delegate tasks and to-do’s to those around you. Hosting a party? Ask guests to bring drinks or dessert. The more you delegate, the less stress responsibility that rests solely on you.

Know that everything will work out: The shopping will get done, the gifts will be wrapped, the dinner will be cooked and the Christmas cookies will be baked.

Don’t forget to enjoy the season: Don’t get so caught up in the rush that you forget to take time and enjoy this magical time of year!