The Kingdom of Bhutan: April 2010
In the words of Surgicorps Volunteer Lynda Dendtler
Arriving in Paro, Bhutan, from Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado and Spain, the 25 multidisciplinary Surgicorps volunteers were welcomed by 170 families eager to present themselves for surgeons Drs. Jack Demos, Sarah Pettrone and Marc Liang’s examination. Word had spread quickly in 2010 that Surgicorps was returning! With the assistance of Queen Ash’s Tarayana Foundation, families assembled from the far reaches of the kingdom in hopes of being accepted for surgical repair of a birth deformity or injury that would allow the child or adult to be able to eat or walk or use their hands and arms. And the Surgicorps team was equally eager to help as many as possible during the 2 weeks in country. Starting early in the morning and operating into the evening, some 89 surgeries provided improvement in the quality of life of these beautiful people.
During our fourth mission to this storybook kingdom, several children came for the next stage in procedures started one, two or even three years ago. Others returned to demonstrate their recovery and pride at being able to now extend and use an arm, hand or leg. One confident young boy was able to fully raise his arm above his head, no small feat for a child whose arm only last year was fused to his chest by scar tissue. His father was beaming as the boy showed his new “moves”. But the faces of the mothers whose babies and children’s cleft lips and palates repaired were the most joyful of all. After all, it fell to them to try to nourish their child since birth through badly misshapen lips that didn’t close, to keep their child from choking or starving. What could be more life changing?
Our team included doctors who made themselves available to the community at large. Upon hearing that a pediatrician was available, people lined up for Dr. Janet, who was able to confirm diagnoses or order further consultations, giving parents hope or confirmation. An anesthesiologist did not hesitate to help the staff during a crisis with a local baby in crisis. The monks of the famous Paro dzong streamed down the hillside for a “check –up” with Drs. Gino and Dr. Ron, who, in one case, solved the blurred vision of an elderly monk simply by giving up his own reading glasses!
The skills, compassion and dedication of each volunteer combined to gain the trust of a people who, though largely self reliant, hope for surgical intervention that is not yet widely available to all citizens of this kingdom. Every year children all over the world are born with a congenital lip and/or palate deformity (1 in 700). With the commitment of Surgicorps, many people of Bhutan need no longer face the social isolation, fear and health impairment that such a deformity can bring
Bhutan measures its citizens “Gross National Happiness”. One young mother shared details of her journey home following her son’s operation: 2 full days on a bus to the end of the line, then walking through the mountains from sunrise into the dark of night to her village, child wrapped in a shawl on her back. “But,” she said, “I am so happy…now he will be able to eat!” Surgicorps is pleased to be able to raise the measure of GNH in Bhutan in 2010!