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Teamwork makes the Dream Work by Agnus Berenato, Surgicorps Vietnam Team Member 2015

Agnus with boy

When I first met Linda Esposto of Surgicorps International I asked her, “Do you have any need for a Basketball Coach?” She replied, “We don’t need a Basketball Coach, but we do need good people.” The wheels in my mind began to turn, and my heart began to pump!

Knowing nothing about Surgicorps or Vietnam, I took a giant leap of blind faith. I was excited to receive details regarding our trip: what to bring (definitely individually wrapped chocolates), daily schedules and visa/flight information, but I still did not know what to expect, or what role I would perform…but the appeal for “good people” kept me motivated.

The introduction to the Surgicorps team took place on a mini bus that transported us to the hospital for Screening Day (an important day to determine who would be scheduled for surgery). Each volunteer and team member shared their name, hometown, and their connection to the Surgicorps cause.

The bus pulled into a small driveway and many people — young and old — were cheering and yelling, waving hello in welcome. I thought, “Why are they here? And, what are they cheering for?” I had only seen this type of fanfare after a team won an important game or championship, but I quickly realized they were here for us! They were here for Surgicorps!

Many of the welcome committee were former patients who returned annually for continued reconstructive surgery by Surgicorps doctors. The joy and tears in their eyes told me I was about to take part in something special. There was Jack (the Medical Director) saying hello and Michele (the Lead Anesthesiologist) hugging and greeting folks like long lost friends. I started my journey with a high five for anyone that would return the offering.

The week was a blur. The amazing Surgicorps team saw 112 patients and performed 73 surgeries. Friendships were made, jokes were told and relationships strengthened. Fatigue set in, humor screamed, and great food was shared.

Countless lives were changed.

Yes, the lives of those with cleft lips and palates, ear reconstructions, burns, and neck releases, but this work also impacted the patient’s families and communities.  Many patients are so badly scarred they can’t go to school or rarely leave their home. This team gave hope to every person that was seen. Physical appearance is one thing, but confidence is another and Surgicorps gave every person a little touch of swag!

The doctors were masterful, the nurses amazing, volunteers willing to do whatever was needed, and with Linda as lead, we had an amazing TEAM.  Coaching teams has been my business, but I pride myself on being a great teammate. There is no better TEAM than Surgicorps and I am honored to be a new teammate.

My heart melted with every baby I carried, every mom I hugged, every fist I bumped, every high five I gave, every tear I shed and every smile I received. I did things I did not think possible; I learned things I never imagined; and I loved every minute of the experience.

Surgicorps reinforced my belief that there is no “I in TEAM,” and “Teamwork makes the Dream Work.” I find myself praying for the woman who we gave a new mouth, the little girl who had her wrist released, the teenage boy who had ear reconstruction and the mom who sobbed when she saw her baby with an upper lip for the first time.  I cry silently to think how lucky I am. Indeed, this was a special game and I was happy to have a uniform.

My emotions run deep for the Surgicorps team that so graciously opened their arms to a Basketball Coach who knew nothing of medicine or surgery. I returned home from Vietnam with a mission: I would be part of a medical trip every year. I dream of next year when the bus pulls in and the cheers are heard and the smiles warm our hearts. I will greet the parade of patients knowingly — with joy, compassion and happiness, because giving is the greatest gift of all. Linda was right, Surgicorps just needs good people!

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