Facial Surgery in Afghanistan

War is never an easy subject to write about, but it is a reality. Although it can be easy to focus on the heartbreaking aspects of a conflict or disaster, we must also recognize the moments that highlight our humanity, even in the most tragic circumstances. When bad things happen, some people unselfishly step up to the plate to help others when it matters most.

Dr. Jose Barrera is no stranger to using his gifts to help others in need. While he spends most of his time providing facial plastic surgeryreconstructive surgery, and sleep treatments from his practice in San Antonio, TX, many of Dr. Barrera’s patients do not know that he is also heavily involved in humanitarian work around the world.

Having provided facial reconstructions to patients in Rwanda, Peru, Haiti, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Afghanistan, Dr. Barrera is doing his part to change the world, one face at a time.


Dr. Barrera has served in the United States Air Force for over 30 years. In 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan to serve our country while his wife, Dena, remained home with his two children and a third on the way. Despite being stationed in a hostile environment that exposed him to active combat, Dr. Barrera courageously used his training to help soldiers, citizens, and children in the area with facial disfigurements, cleft lip and palate, and combat-related issues.

In one instance, Dr. Barrera performed an orbital reconstruction to remove a 12-year-old boy’s eye tumor. Incredibly, the boy’s father, who was a high-ranking Afghan official, showed his appreciation by handing over two tons of explosives and multiple caches of weapons.

“It was my greatest military accomplishment,” Dr. Barrera humbly says.

Dr. Barrera learned first-hand the challenges faced by many in impoverished nations like Afghanistan and has published his experience on challenges in cleft care in Archive of Facial Plastic Surgery and the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.

Dr. Barrera’s Humanitarian Work in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has little medical infrastructure, increasing poverty, and prevalent malnutrition. War-related injuries represent a large fraction of the morbidity and mortality. Military medics provide an invaluable service to children who have no hope but to suffer or succumb to their deformity. The remote and mountainous regions of Afghanistan prevent many families from seeking help. Our medics positioned at forward operating bases form a network system by which humanitarian and trauma care can expeditiously be delivered.

A 5-year-old female with right-sided unilateral cleft lip and palate deformity underwent this sequence of repair as shown in Figure 1. In her family, 3 of the 6 siblings were born with cleft lip and palate deformity. Her older sister underwent revision of her bilateral cleft lip and palate repair during the same operative setting with Dr. Barrera

Figure 2 depicts a 9-month-old patient born with a left-sided unilateral cleft lip and palate. Her lip deficiency was corrected by Dr. Barrera with a modified Millard repair with cleft rhinoplasty techniques to reposition and align the left using soft tissue dissection with buried horizontal mattress sutures.

Figure 3 illustrates a typical bilateral cleft lip deformity seen commonly in Afghanistan. The 6-year-old female illustrated here presented with a bilateral incomplete lip deformity with malpositioned dentition. She underwent bilateral cleft lip repair. Given her age, pre-surgical orthodontics was not performed.  One patient was born with a unilateral cleft lip with palate deformity and simultaneous left lower foot and mid-shaft leg deformity; her twin sister was born without defect (Figure 4). The majority of the patients presented for evaluation at an advanced age to our clinic. They experienced the speech, feeding, tooth decay, and psychological effects of this deformity due to delayed treatment.

Dr. Jose Barrera, an American Hero

Dr. Barrera is the epitome of what it means to be a hard-working American, and a short blog post will frankly not do his incredible story justice. Growing up as an immigrant in an impoverished environment, Dr. Barrera has worked impossibly hard to get to where he is today. Because of the perspective he’s gained through his military, personal, and medical background, Dr. Barrera has made it a personal mission to help people from around the world.

Dr. Barrera is also a renowned author, professor, family man, and is also one of the most renowned plastic and reconstructive surgeons in Texas. If you are interested in learning more about the services offered by Dr. Barrera and his team, call his office at (210) 468-5426 or schedule a consultation today.