In the words of Bhutan 2013 Team Member, Dr. Alex Rose
Flying into Paro Airport for the first time is an exhilarating experience. The plane banks along the Himalayan Mountains before gliding to a stop on a narrow landing strip in a small valley that seems to appear out of nowhere. It was my first time in Bhutan, as well as about half of the other team members on this Surgicorps International trip. For others, this was their seventh journey to Paro, Bhutan, where dozens of patients already lined the open halls of the hospital, awaiting our arrival. The transition from hotel to hospital was a quick one and screening began almost immediately. With the help of the Tarayana Foundation, an NGO founded by her Majesty the Queen, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, patients received assistance with their transportation costs from the eastern regions of the country, enabling them access to Surgicorps aid.
That first day of screening we saw dozens of children with cleft lips and cleft palates. The majority of these children were born to parents who had no family history of this congenital deformity. Some babies were quite healthy and thriving, despite this deficit. Others were more obviously impacted in their growth from an inability to feed well. The OR schedule was filling up fast with patients whom we could really help in the days following.
A First for Surgicorps and a New Future for Ms. Huang Toe Toe
Story by Surgicorps volunteer Mario Guiterrez
It all started with a casual conversation over dinner during last year’s surgical mission to Paro, Bhutan between Surgicorps founder Dr. Jack Demos and one of the team’s surgeons, Debra Johnson. Dr. Johnson had, for more than twelve years, led volunteer surgical missions to Myanmar (formerly Burma). However, these missions sadly came to an end in 2002 due to lack of organizational funding support and increased political tensions between the US and Myanmar. All it took was for Dr. Jack to ask, “Any chance you think we can initiate a Surgicorps mission there?” for Debra to send off a flurry of emails to her contacts in Mandalay, Myanmar to explore the possibilities.
As a young resident Dr. Nu Nu Yee, had been mentored by Dr. Johnson during her many visits to Yangon (the Capital) General Hospital. Now Dr. Yee was the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Mandalay General Hospital. Upon hearing of Surgicorps and Dr. Johnson’s desire to work at her hospital, Dr. Yee and our Executive Director Linda Esposto worked diligently together to obtain all the necessary approvals from the Ministry of Health and secure the visas for the team. Finally, with all in place, the inaugural Surgicorps volunteer mission was set for February, 2013.
Myanmar is a fairly large, and relatively poor country that until recently had been isolated from the rest of the world. It has a population of 65 million — but with only five surgeons trained in plastic reconstructive surgery. Consequently, the number of children born with congenital defects such as cleft lip and palate, have greatly outstripped the capacity of Dr. Nu Nu Yee and her colleagues in Yangon to meet the overwhelming demand for care. The Surgicorps Mandalay team, was led by Dr. Jack Demos, and included two other surgeons Dr. Johnson and Dr. David Kim from Boston. On the first day clinic the team screened over 100 children and young adults who were in need of surgery And, while they included the usual array of cleft lip, palates, and burn contractures, there was one young lady that stood out from the rest.
Surgicorps’ first trip in 2013 was a return to Ethiopia. It was exciting to have a majority of the volunteers making their first trip with Surgicorps. It was a wonderful success with 53 surgeries completed. First-time volunteer Lauren Potter shared this story from the week.
By Lauren Potter
Patient: Hussein Musa, Post-op from a cleft lip repair
With the assistance of an Amharic translator, (a nurse in the ward) I was able to learn more about Hussein from his mother; who held him on her back wrapped in a sheet which she tied around her body. She told me they had traveled over 500km from Diredawa, Ethiopia (10 hours by bus). They heard about the opportunity for Hussein to have surgery by “word of mouth”.
Hussein and his mother live in a catholic home (shelter) called Mother Teresa home. He was born on 12/6/11 so is just over a year old now. Hussein is an only child, but his mother assumes she will have more children. Hussein’s father works odd jobs but does not have a steady income. His mother is currently unemployed with the exception of occasional cleaning jobs (called a house worker) at people’s homes.
Hussein’s mother revealed to me that she was concerned when he was born with a cleft lip because she knew he would face difficulties being accepted into the community. I specifically questioned her on the topic of breastfeeding because I was curious to know how a cleft lip may have impacted Hussein’s ability to breastfeed. She responded that he could not breastfeed and instead she had to purchase cow’s milk to feed him. I tried to ask her about “pumping” breast milk with a breast pump, but she had no idea what that was.