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Ethiopia, February 2010

In the words of Surgicorps Volunteer Melinda Handler:

Ethiopia was an exciting new destination for Surgicorps this February, 2010.

Dr Jack Demos and Dr Paul Kim once again performed operations on those who could not otherwise afford them. The two surgeons were assisted by a team of fourteen who accompanied them from the USA.

In order to be screened for possible care, many natives travelled from rural villages. Some walked up to two days just to reach a smaller city center. From there bus is standard transport, a ride that could last several days. The hospital was situated in the heart of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. It is hard to imagine the fear or unease that must lie within oneself upon such a journey, the uncertainty of newly chartered territory. Still, hope must be ever present for the slight chance at change. They arrive tired and weary into our care. We are told many, due to their physical deformity, are rarely looked at, talked to or smiled upon within their community. Our smiles are wide and hugs are warm. It takes time for them to trust and to tell their story.

Twenty eight patients received fifty one procedures successfully over the course of five days. The majority of cases were cleft lips and cleft palates. We saw more adults than children, which meant these birth defects lasted well into their 20’s and 30’s (some suffered past that point.) In more developed countries, a defect such as a cleft palate is rectified at birth or soon after. Imagine, living through adulthood with a large open cavity at the roof of your mouth. The simple act of eating, (chewing and swallowing) is nearly impossible. The majority of food slips through the open gap, at times funneling through the nose. A surgery such as this can last between 2 to 4 hours, yet brings about significant change.

Every day a particular experience tugged at our hearts. There was the young, sweet 4 year old girl with a cleft lip. She had become a sort of mascot for the team, full of personality and energy. Her spirit was contagious. The surgery however, was canceled the morning of, due to testing positive for Malaria. Her family was obviously devastated by the news but the young girl still managed to smile and spread joy.

Another occasion involved two preteen girls who kept their facial deformities covered by wearing a wrap exposing only their dark eyes and long beautiful braids. On one particular morning the hospital staff discovered lice on both their scalps. A decision was made to shave their heads to prevent spreading within the ward. The girls were saddened by the thought of losing their feminine locks and how it would only add to the torture of an already visual affliction. Members of our team provided them with colorful silk scarves bought from the local market to help soften the blow.

On any Surgicorps mission a volunteer cannot help but be moved and affected by personal stories such as these.

By week’s end our goals were accomplished and all 28 patients were discharged and provided with follow up care. Once again they began their long journeys home, this time perhaps leaving with more confidence than before and with a better outlook for tomorrow.

In the words of Helen Keller- “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

Guatemala 2009


A cleft palate is a cleft palate.

But the patients are always different.

They come from different towns with different stories and different faces. And that is why each trip to the same city, Antigua, is different – but just as rewarding as the last.

On August 15, 2009, a Surgicorps team of 47 volunteers (25 on their first mission) from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Florida, Colorado, Utah, Boston, Connecticut and California met in Guatemala for a week-long mission of surgeries and related medical care. Same hospital, same host staff – different patients, different lives to be impacted.

Seven days and 86 surgeries later, the team returned to the United States, and Surgicorps International added 86 names to the list of thousands whose lives have been improved in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia over the past 15 years.

Doctors, nurses, medical students, non-medical volunteers, all working daily in some large or small role to achieve the same goal: an improved life for someone in need. All working daily to feel what one volunteer, 16-year old Aarthi Ramesh, felt after working with her mother, an anesthesiologist, and her father, a general surgeon: “This might have been the best day of my life.”

Volunteer Gillian Roy shares her Bhutan experience

I knew that at some point I would sign on for a Surgicorps trip; its reputation is impeccable, its track record beyond impressive and besides, who can argue with the clarity and resolve of its mission?

Following the lead of some well-traveled and trustworthy friends, I made my first foray into this world of “voluntourism,” a week of service at your own expense in a foreign country. Now Bhutan was never on my travel hit parade, but I was jazzed about all the “firsts”: new place, people and challenges and all as part of a “medical” team.
I also was a little unsure of my own ability to do whatever was asked of me and not faint at the sight of – what? Let go, breathe, trust….

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Bhutan Culture


In the midst of all the hard work, Surgicorps Team members had the opportunity to experience some of the traditions of Bhutan. At a local monastery, the team enjoyed a performance of local singers and dancers.



Kimley is a five-year old future basketball star, who entertained Team members with his hoop skills while waiting for his surgery time. Kimley was burned by an open fire, and the scar left him unable to fully extend his left arm. Surgicorps sees many burns from open fires in Bhutan and other developing countries.

After surgery and a splint on his arm, he was still able to charm Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, Queen Mother, when she stopped by for a visit.


Queen Visits Patients


Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, Queen Mother, visited Paro Hospital to meet many of Surgicorps’ patients during our Medical Mission Trip to Bhutan in April. She stopped by the bedside and talked with each patient. Her Majesty received a case update from Dr. Demos and Dr. Kim. The Royal Family is greatly loved by the people of Bhutan and many of the patients and family members were overwhelmed by her generosity and kindness.

After visiting with the patients, she hosted tea for the Surgicorps Team and the Paro Hospital staff to thank us for our work and make plans for the 2010 visit.

Update on Tandin Dorji

7-year old Tandin Dorji before his second surgery for to reconstruct his nose after a bob cat attack.

We first met Tandin Dorji two years ago when he was smiling and racing around Paro Hospital waiting for reconstructive surgery for a new nose. He had been attacked by a bobcat as an infant.

During our April 2009 Medical Mission Trip, Tandin was back to continue his reconstructive surgery. Now seven years old, he is pictured here waiting for his surgery.



During the April 2009 Medical Mission Trip to Bhutan, Surgicorps performed 62 life-change surgeries, a majority of which were for cleft lips.

2-year old Kiran, pictured here in before and after photos, was one of our patients. The team was able to repair his lip, helping him to better take nourishment, and improve his overall quality of life.


Luncheon with Royal Family

During its April Medical Mission trip to Paro, Bhutan, the team was received by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and Their Majesties the Queen Mothers for a special luncheon in Dechencholing Palace in Thimphu. His Majesty expressed his appreciation to Surgicorps International for the good work they did through these camps in many different parts of the developing world in general and the work they are doing in Bhutan in particular.

Surgicorps Team was received by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and Their Majesties the Queen Mothers for a special luncheon in Dechencholing Palace in Thimphu.

This was a great honor for the Surgicorps Team – much like meeting the President of the United States. To add to the excitement, team members donned the traditional clothing of a gho for the men and a kira for the women. After a week of scrubs, it was fun to see everyone dressed-up. After meeting the Royal Family, we better understand why they are so well loved by their people, and we were impressed by their graciousness.

Also attending the luncheon was Lyonpo Zangley Drukpa, the Minister for Health and Dr. Gado Tshering, Secretary, Ministry of Health.

Bhutan: April 10-22, 2009

Bhutan is a landlocked nation in South Asia, located on the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains. The country has limited health care services and physicians to meet the medical and surgical needs of its population. Surgicorps medical and non-medical volunteers work with the Bhutanese medical professionals to provide surgical services and share knowledge to help improve medical services in this mountain kingdom.

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Mangnezig Mollel

We are the brothers of Mangnezig. We are from the Masaii Tribe and our family raises cattle. Our family was herding our cattle across a stream during the monsoon. The fast water carried away one of our young cows. Mangnezig grabbed the cow by the tail to try and save it, but the cow and our brother were carried down stream. Our brother is very strong and he did not let go. When we found him, the cow was dead; both of Mangnezig’s arms were broken and most of the skin was missing from his back and legs.

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Manamedoli Shandala

My name is Nashel, I am from “Mana’s” village and I brought “Mana” to the clinic to see if the American doctors could fix her hands. Mana’s hands and face were burned very badly when the thatched roof of her family’s hut caught on fire and collapsed into the house.

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Vandin Sowers

10 years ago…She lurched into the public health clinic in Codo, Brazil on two grotesquely deformed legs. She was six years old and wore only underpants. Dr. Jack Demos and Dr. Vincent Silvaggio, surgeons on a medical mission to Brazil, knew immediately that they could not treat her in Codo. She would have to return home.

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