St. John’s announced with great sadness the death of Dr. Janet K. Salomonson earlier this month. A memorial mass will be held at Saint John’s this Thursday, Sept. 26 at 12 pm in the Sister Marie Madeleine Chapel.
“Our beloved Medical Director of the Cleft Palate Services and gifted plastic surgeon, passed away Sept. 10 after an illness," St. John's released in a statement.
"While an intensely private person, she was known throughout Saint John’s and the surrounding community, and internationally, for her deep devotion to her patients, their families and her associates.
“At Saint John’s, she held the position of Section Chief of Plastic Surgery and served as a member of the Surgery Committee, the Pediatric Committee, and the Surgical Value Analysis Team.”
Donations may be made in honor of Dr. Salomonson’s work to the following organizations:
Faces of Hope: www.facesofhope-antigua.org
In 2011 Dr. Salomonson agreed to be interviewed for the Hometown Hero column. She wanted people to know about the problem of cleft palate, that it was a solvable problem, and the work of the organizations Faces of Hope and Rotoplast.
What follows is the reprint of the 2011 column:
Santa Monica plastic surgeon Janet Salomonson will be in Guatemala
this coming summer performing operations to correct the birth anomaly of
cleft palate. “We never turn away any child who is healthy enough to go
through the operation. I stay for one or sometimes two weeks in the
host country and typically perform about five operations every day. We
work until the work is done,” said Dr. Salomonson.
“For reasons we still don’t know, even though the human genome has
been mapped, normal structures don’t form in the lip and palate and
children are born with cleft palate. Not only is cleft palate
disfiguring, it’s important to have the structures in place as early as
possible so the child can learn to speak correctly. It’s best to do the
operations in stages. We do the lip first, especially with a child
under 10 months and then return to repair the palate.
“If the cleft palate is not corrected when they are very young the
child can still learn to speak, but often they can’t speak clearly and
can have difficulty being understood.”
Salomonson has been to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and
the Philippines to perform cleft palate surgeries. This is her tenth
year of working with Faces of Hope and Rotaplast, two Rotary sponsored
groups, which arrange trips for teams of medical professionals to work
internationally donating their much-needed medical skills.
“We go with a spirit of humility and with respect for the local
culture. We work with the local people. Their knowledge is helpful to
the success of our work. We partner, whenever possible, with local
physicians and are always on the look out for local physicians who want
to be trained in cleft palate surgery.
“We bring the supplies, everything from sutures to anesthesia,
our own scrubs, antibiotics, so that we are not taking from the local facility.” Doctor Salomonson noted.
The visits of the medical teams are announced on the radio, in the
newspapers and on banners and flyers. The radio seems to be the way
most people learn about the program.
The organizing group goes ahead of the medical team and scouts out
the situation in the host country to make sure that the basic
requirements for operating and achieving good surgical outcomes can be
met. They also make the arrangements for lodging and meals for the
medical team members.
The daughter of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota she has the famous
Midwestern straightforward manner and self –deprecating style. Her mom
was a stay at home mom and her dad worked on road construction. They
wanted the American dream of education and a better life for their
Her parents had originally met when her mom was a ‘summer child’ on a
farm. It is a typical Swedish custom, kind of the Swedish equivalent
of sending your kid to camp, for city children to go to farms in the
summer. On the farm she was given a kitten, the food was great and she
had a wonderful time. She liked the entire farm family, including the
older son. Years later, they met again and decided to marry.
Salomonson’s path to studying medicine was incremental. She knew
when she was in Maplewood High School in St. Paul, Minnesota that she
was drawn to math and science.
This took her to the University Of Minnesota as an undergraduate to
study Chemical Engineering. Many of her professors worked in the field
of bioengineering and medicine. Salomonson admired their work and
decided she would apply to medical school and become a medical
In Medical School, also at the University of Minnesota, she fell in
love with the clinical work and decided that, as much as the research
meant to her, it would mean more to work with patients. One more
incremental move took her to UCLA for a surgical residency, starting in
general surgery and then specializing in plastic surgery.
Now she has the hard earned and well deserved prestigious title,
Janet Salomonson, MD, FACS, Plastic Surgeon/Medical Director of the
Cleft Palate Center at Saint John's Cleft Center.
At the invitation of a beloved former teacher, Salomonson went back
to Minnesota to give the commencement address at her old high school.
She told the graduates, “You won’t remember for long who won the super
bowl or even the Nobel Prize, but you will remember the teachers who
taught you about the world and the people who were important to you.
Fame is not what is important. What is important are the people in our
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