An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Jordan Swanson '98: Surgery for the People

Surgeon  |  Nicaragua

October 2018

By Paula Bock

Life Journey: I trained as a pediatric plastic and craniofacial surgeon, which is a cool field, and am fortunate to care for incredible patients and their families. But what keeps me up at night is that 80 percent of the world has pretty much no access to the types of treatments I can perform. I’m happiest working with my hands, but I find the most meaning in figuring out creative ways to help people. In 2015, my wife, Magda, 2-year old son, Lazaro, and I moved to Nicaragua. I was asked by Operation Smile and Nicaraguan President Ortega to help develop a national program to treat children with clefts and craniofacial problems, and to help advance surgery in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. We are now in the second year of Surgery for the People, a program to bring essential surgery to isolated Eastern Nicaragua. Nine months ago, my family moved back to Philadelphia. I continue work in Nicaragua part time and serve as director of surgical innovation for Operation Smile globally.

Why Nicaragua

A vision, conviction, and a lucky nudge. A vision, shared with my wife to work among those most in need. Conviction in
standing up to my chiefs as a graduating surgeon and say I wasn’t going to take the well-worn path to the most prestigious job. And the lucky nudge came late one night in the presidential palace, in the final hours of a weeklong trip to strategize how to build safe surgery in the country. President Ortega asked who could possibly lead the program. And looked at me.

How do you reconcile helping to strengthen one of the most impactful outcome-per-cost health care systems in the world with empowering an authoritarian regime set on disassembling democratic voice?- Jordan Swanson '98

Lightbulb moment

I was in a plane taxiing for takeoff in Central America. A warning light apparently came on in the cockpit, and the pilot returned to the airport — flight canceled ’til the next day, and I missed the whole reason for my trip. Frustrated, I called my companions who were to meet me at my destination. What bad luck, I said. “Are you kidding?” they replied. "Thank goodness that warning light came on. It probably saved your life."

Travel tip

Don’t visit Nicaragua right now. It has become very unstable. (Yes, my work there continues, more important now than ever, and, yes, I continue to work part time there.)

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2018 Lakeside magazine. Paula Bock is innovation and communications strategist for Mobilizing Myanmar, an initiative leveraging Burma’s smartphone revolution to connect women and the poor with economic opportunity. She’s the mom of a Lakeside 10th grader.