New Faces and Friends — Bhutan 2012

By Mario Gutierrez — Surgicorps Volunteer

One of the unique and wonderful aspects of Surgicorps is our desire to include a variety of individuals on the surgical missions to experience firsthand what we do, and interact with the people and culture of the places where we go. This past April, the team in Bhutan was composed of 28 individuals, the largest team to date. In addition to our core group of surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, our team included a budding young third year plastic surgery resident, a medical student from the United States and one from New Zealand, and a volunteer preparing to enter medical school. Also for the first time our Bhutan team included dentists. Dr. William Manteris, the leader of the dental team, who on his own, has traveled internationally providing volunteer dental care to those in need, joined a Surgicorps team for the first time. Willie brought a team of two young dentists who conducted educational and restorative care for more than 1,000 children and adults in several isolated rural villages during our week in Bhutan.

Our team also included a number of non-surgical volunteers like me who provide a variety of needed support services for the team. This includes everything from patient data entry and record-keeping, organizing and maintaining the supply room, entertaining and comforting kids and families before surgery, helping with patient flow during pre- and post-op clinics, and generally providing a helping hand at times when things get a bit hectic during the surgery days.

Randy Burns was one of those special non-surgical volunteers who was ready to lend a helping hand from the moment he put on his surgical scrubs and walked in the room. For Randy, this trip was to be extra special, as he was going to see his daughter Tara Burns, a Physician Assistant, and the medical team leader, in action in the operating room for his first time. Randy has been an active supporter of Surgicorps and had heard the wonderful stories from Tara and others of our surgical camp in Bhutan and wanted to come along and experience it for himself. From day one, we worked together opening boxes and organizing the surgical supply room and helping with patient flow during our pre-screening clinic. And when things got a little slow in between cases, he changed into his regular clothes and even spent a couple of hours picking up trash from around the hospital grounds!

But it was clear that the one thing he enjoyed the most was spending time with the Bhutanese children prior to their surgeries. Every year on these missions there always seems to be one child or person that has a lasting impact and captures the spirit of the trip. And Bhutan 2012 was filled with many interesting stories and experiences— but none were as fascinating and as touching as Big Randy and Little Moni.

Moni was one of those special kids that always had a smile and was full of energy. Moni was 8 years old and was one of five children in his family. Our local partner, the Tarayana Foundation, had brought Moni to us to repair his cleft palate. On the day of his surgery his case was postponed until the afternoon so Randy and Moni rapidly became close friends. Randy helped Moni put together a puzzle (something that Moni had never done before) and did a lot of crayon drawing. What surprised Randy though was just how quick and intelligent he was. So when it was time for his surgery, there was Randy carrying him into the operating room and staying with him until he was asleep. And the first person he saw when he woke up was his pal Randy. And the day after his surgery, Dr. Manteris was ready to remove Moni’s abscessed molar. So of course, Moni was squeezing Randy’s hand with tears streaming down his face as Dr. Manteris numbed up his gums and pulled his painful tooth. And on our last day, as we loaded on to the bus, there was Moni; sending Randy and all of us away with a smile and a wave good-bye.

When all is said and done, as this story shows, Surgicorps and its growing family of volunteers is really about sharing our love for humanity and bringing smiles to the faces of those we touch —and who touch us.

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