Touching the Beautiful People of Bhutan by Merelise O’Connor; Surgicorps 2017 Volunteer
To spend precious moments over several days talking with the patients and families was deeply enriching for me during my inaugural trip with Surgicorps International. They displayed quiet stoicism and great courage. Their surgical needs were the result of injuries, burns and birth defects that caused speech and hearing problems. Many of these Bhutanese people traveled from villages hours and even 3-4 days on buses to arrive at the Paro Hospital. Of the 52 patients treated by Surgicorps, Sonam, mauled by a bear, burn victim, Kuenden, and bilateral cleft patient, Janyang are typical of the people who are treated.
Sonam was attacked by a bear, in 2007, when she was just 14 years old and is the youngest of 7 children. She lives in the eastern region of Bhutan. Her parents are still alive and are farmers. Sonam was walking the 30 minutes to non-formal education (NFE) where people who may not have had the chance to go to school at an early age may learn the basics. She was all alone and the attack was sudden and from behind. She never heard it and didn’t see it coming. Sonam felt the bear maul her face, fainted and fell to the ground. While she was unconscious, the bear dragged her from the road about 25 feet into the woods. She felt lucky that the bear left her right next to a cliff and didn’t drag her or toss her off the cliff. Her injuries were on her right lower leg, left back of the head, her nose and face and her right ear. The claw marks are still visible on her knees. When she awoke, she walked 10-15 minutes to her friend’s house who then notified her parents. An ambulance was called and transported her 3 hours to the Mongar hospital. She was in the hospital for 8 days. Fortunately, her family was alerted that Surgicorps was in Paro and could help. She traveled 16 hours in the ambulance to receive treatment in 2007. For this ongoing reconstructive surgery, Sonam travels 2 days by bus to get to Paro.
Now 24, Sonam is married to Gyembola and has a 4 year old son. She “has a good life.” Her husband takes good care of her. She is so grateful to Surgicorps for the treatment she receives and that Surgicorps has made her a “proper nose.” Sonam went on to thank the doctors, the hospital, Tarayana Foundation, the whole team for giving her a second life. If not for Surgicorps, she doesn’t think that she would have lived. It is a dream come true, a miracle. The Surgicorps team is like a “god” to her.
Kuenden, 2 years and 5 months old. His mom is Yangchen, 24 years old. His dad is a teacher on the primary level. Kuenden suffered a burn injury to the hand when he was 1 + years old by accidently touching an electrical heater while his father was repairing it. His mom was in the kitchen doing dishes when this happened. This accident happened in Paro, but the family lives in Samtsi, in southwest Bhutan. It took her 8 hours on a bus to get to Paro. Yangchen expressed her happiness that her son’s hand could be repaired by surgery. She couldn’t ever imagine his hand could be treated, but had been hoping for it and heard about Surgicorps on the news channel. She thinks Surgicorps International does a great job!
Janyang, age 5 months has a bilateral cleft lip. Her mom has said that people are sympathetic towards her. The family lives in Paro, only a 20-minute drive to the hospital. Tshewang is 29 years old. She heard on the news that Surgicorps was coming to the hospital. She is grateful and could not imagine a person “like me” getting treatment for her daughter. She says thank you to Surgicorps for coming to Bhutan and for providing treatment to people at no cost.
The patients and the families were calm and patient while waiting outside for hours. They asked for nothing and consider the work of Surgicorps to be miraculous. It brings value to their lives beyond their wildest expectations in Bhutan.